Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finding the Jeans Stretcher

Years ago, when I worked in a book bindery, every new floor guy (aka "janitor") would be asked by one of the old timers to find them the paper stretcher. Now, common sense says that there is no such thing, but every single guy would go from person to person asking where the paper stretcher was. One old timer would send them to another: "Go ask Jimmy, I think he had it last." Jimmy would send him to Paul and so on. After a good half hour of this jocularity, they'd clue the guy in and the whole shop would be roaring.

So, I'm presently in search of a jeans stretcher. I'm sure there must be such a thing as my 36's are just about DOA and my 38's do a fine job of relocating my belly rolls. There must be such a device out there, right?

Mrs. FFRG suggested that I write this post just to get it all out of my system, but not put it out there for all to see. I just don't feel right about that. I've spent the last 2 1/2 years talking mostly about the good stuff. It wouldn't be right to ignore the bad. So, here goes. . .

No other way to put it, but I've continued my out of control spiral up the dial on the scale. I topped out Tuesday at 264. Actually, 264.6. Of course, this is no surprise as I've been cursing the donations I've made over the past years to Goodwill of my size 40 pants and just about every XXL shirt I own.

In the glass half full department, one might say kudos to me for keeping off 150 pounds. Exactly 150 pounds. Well, I'd feel pretty good about that if I was still on the way down. It's been more than a year since I bottomed out at 218. What's hard to believe is that I was in the low 230's for the Marine Corps Marathon. Just two months ago! 30 pounds in two months. There must be a tapeworm or something, right?

Actually, not. Sadly, it's 100% explainable in a "hand-to-mouth" sorta way. There have been M&M's, Raisinettes, Chex Mix (cheddar or dark chocolate flavor, please), ice cream (low fat, of course!), cookies, more cookies, still more cookies.

The bad habits of the past returned with a vengeance.

Sure I could explain it all away. No problem justifying my first real fall off the wagon in 40 months. The bottom line is I've been pigging out.

Monday was a low point. On Sunday, I had bought a bag of after-Christmas discounted Nestle Crunch bars and some other no-name chocolate. When I got in the car to head off to boot camp at 5:20 am, my hand went right for the chocolates. By the time I got near the gym, I knew that I'd see all of that chocolate on the way back up if I worked out. So I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts, got a big coffee and sat in the parking lot eating chocolate and drinking my coffee.

These are the actions of that old fat guy that I was, not the finely tuned athlete that had finished a marathon and a 100-mile bike ride just two months before.

After my biggest fall, I came home and confessed my sins. (Isn't that the first step in those 12-step programs?) This was a big step and I knew Deb would help me get back on track.

I felt then like I was that 414 pound guy again. Even looking at myself in the mirror, I could see the changes for the worse. Suddenly, I was feeling embarrassed to be in the gym. I struggled to find acceptable attire, since form fitting clothes were not designed with blubber in mind.

Since Monday, I have felt a rebirth. It's only been a couple of days, but I feel the commitment. I've been in the gym and have been eating very well, heavy on the fruits, veggies and lean proteins. I know I can get myself back and beyond. 2010 WILL be the year to hit my goal!

In the mean time, if anyone has seen the jeans stretcher, would you pass it my way?


Monday, November 23, 2009

Bulking Up

Has it really been a month since Marine Corps? Time flies.

So, what have I been up to ? Mostly bulking up. Unfortunately, I'm not talking about pumping iron. More like pumping m & m's.

It took me a full month to kill off the crud that I had. Up until a week ago, I was still feeling some effects in my chest. That didn't make exercise very pleasant. After a week off, I made my first trip to boot camp and thought I'd puke, so I cut that short. I've had one run of 3 miles since then and a couple of tough sluggish bike rides.

Mostly, I've been eating. I wouldn't call it an appetite, but more like an insatiable need to nosh. I've seen the old me peeking out from behind pantry and I don't like what I've seen.

This morning I weighed in at 247, up about 15 pounds in a month. I feel like a great summer of working out and, though I didn't lose, I did maintain, has gone to waste. My pants are getting tight, my shirts are getting tight. I'd given up on boot camp and Body Pump over the last couple of months of training, so any toning I had has gone to mush.

So that's the first step, right? Admitting you have a problem. I admit it. Cookies, cake, Halloween candy, more Halloween candy, still more Halloween candy. Oy!

Today's a new day. In with the old, out with the new. Bananas, oranges, carrots and celery. A great boot camp this morning and plenty of water to drink all day.

One day at a time and one day down. Off to tomorrow land and an early Body Pump.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marine Corps Marathon 2009 -- A Nice Run . . . A Long Walk

A Sunday ago, I got in a good 10 miler on the treadmill. No toe pain -- a good thing! I woke Monday morning feeling like crap. The beginnings of a cold, for sure. As the week went on, things got worse before they got better, including a fever of 101, sore throat, cough, runny nose, etc. Of course, all I could think about was Marine Corps.

By Friday, the fever and sore throat were gone, but the cough and runny nose lingered. I headed out with my dad to the expo at the DC Convention Center. As expected, the expo was huge. A welcome sight -- no lines whatsoever. There's something patriotic about being handed your bib and shirt by uniformed marines. After dad and I spent a couple hours walking the aisles and picking up samples, we were on our way back home. Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet up with my cousin Patricia, in from Dallas for the race.

Saturday, bright and early, I headed out to the chiropractor. Dr. Lipman did a great job getting me ready for the next day -- all kinds of adjustments and treatments for my cold and my bones. He's also been taping my bad foot/toe with kinesio tape. After a brief return home, I was off to DC.

First stop was to meet my cousin and aunt Beatriz. I haven't seen Patricia in at least ten years. In fact, it seems that the rest of the world knows her as "Trish", but she'll always be Patricia to me. No one would have ever figured these two first cousins would be running marathons together! It was great to see them.

Time to head off to the hotel. As soon as I got into the hotel, I could feel the excitement in the air as there were dozens of Team in Training runners and staff around the hotel. I unpacked, laid out all of my wear and gear for the next day and headed back to the lobby.
After getting settled, we were off to the Inspiration Dinner at Georgetown U. Following the pasta meal, keynote speaker John Bingham was introduced. Bingham doled out plenty of tips for the next day, particularly for first time marathoners. Among other things, he announced that this fall, TnT had surpassed $1 billion in donations in it's 21 year history. We heard some inspiring stories from a marine survivor as well as from a gentleman who completed an Iron Man Triathlon on the 10th anniversary of receiving a bone marrow transplant -- while raising $160k for LLS. There were more than a few wet eyes in the room. Then, it was back to the hotel for some last minute instructions and off to bed.

The alarm was set for 5, but I woke some time around 4:30, brewed a cup of coffee and dined on a bagel and banana. At 6, the Maryland team met in the lobby for pictures and then we were off to the metro station en route to the start line.

Before the run, with one of my training partners, Renn.

A good looking group! I'm in the back row, left of center.

As soon as we hit the metro station, reality set it. The metro was packed with runners. Exiting at the Pentagon, I realize that this was as close as I'd ever been to the building. Kind of eerie at dawn's early light with "No Photography" signs all around the metro stop and above.
As the hundreds of us headed to the bag drop area, we could now hear the p.a. system with announcements of the weather -- dry and in the 50's all day -- and a count down to the start, about an hour away. A quick stop at the port-a-pot, check my bag and off to the start line.
My plan was to run with the 5:00 pace group along with my NJ friend Dan. I knew I could hold my own at that pace, I just couldn't predict if I'd be able to stay with that group. As I got close to the 5 hour starting corral, there was Dan and his friend Lou. Amazing that we were able to find each other so quickly. This would be both of their first marathons. Soon, one of my TNT friends also found me. Anne would join us at the start as well.
The minutes passed until the start, we heard the National Anthem and an invocation as well as a flyover of some military planes. Finally, at 8 am, the 50mm canon was fired and we were off. Well, some people were off. From my vantage point, I couldn't even see the starting balloons. About 8:10, we began to move and, finally, at 8:21, we crossed the start line.

Jeff, Dan and Anne. 26.19 miles to go.

As the four of us set out on our journey, we traversed some hills in Northern Virginia before heading across a bridge into Georgetown. Running along the Potomac, I sighted Scott, one of the TNT coaches, just where he said he'd be. Moments later, Jonathan, one of my coaches yelled out as he was a good three miles ahead of us on the back portion of this out-and-back part of the course. Though Anne had moved on, Dan, Lou and I held together as we reached the steepest climb at about mile 7. From here, it was down hill and flat for the rest of the run, until we'd head back into Virginia.

Around mile 10, I found myself alone. I don't know where I left Dan and Lou, but my pace was consistent and comfortable, so I continued on.
Approaching mile 12, my body was asking for relief. Time to walk. I'm not entirely sure what happened here, but I was running well and comfortably, but my legs just wouldn't go any more. I started to walk and just kept walking. Dan and Lou passed me soon after and they were moving on.
I just kept walking and watched as the miles ticked off. Each time I'd start to run, within a few dozen yards, I just couldn't run any longer. I didn't have any particular pain. My feet were fine. I felt like a car with a nearly dead battery . . . you can turn the engine over, but it just won't run.
Undaunted, I kept moving. When I'd see a photographer on the course, I'd speed to a gallop, but that was always short lived. As the course wound through the National Mall, I tried to run. There were people everywhere. Just no go.

"Posed" running for the camera.

About mile 16, I started to feel hunger pangs. I had taken a few gels but I needed more. Shortly, I spotted a group with a table set up and various foods for the runners (and walkers, too!) I grabbed a mini bagel and kept on walking, hoping it was all safe to eat.

The most significant time goal is to "Beat the Bridge." The 14th street bridge opens to traffic at 1:15, so you must cross before then -- at mile 20. I was never in danger of the cutoff, but that bridge seemed like it went on forever. Thankfully, a TNT coach from Alabama (wish I knew her name) walked with me for a bit and talked to me. It was a welcome sight.

Next was the funniest thing on the course -- a guy dressed up as the grim reaper with a drum and big sign that said "THE END IS NEAR!" A more welcome sight was never seen.

Back into Virgina, the course takes a short out and back leg from 22-24. Almost immediately, I spot Dan and Lou on the other side. They had struggled as well. I hoped I'd see them at the finish. Next, I saw a couple more familiar faces . . . Mohan and Ohuwa from my local TNT group, along the sidewalk cheering. I gave the each a big hug. An unexpected surprise. TNT support was everywhere, including our local staff contact Bryan. It seemed the he or coach Scott showed up every couple of miles.

As the miles ticked off, the end was, in fact near. I ran the last 2/10 mile or so up the big hill to the Iwo Jima memorial and through the finish line.

At long last, 12 miles of running and 14 miles of walking were done.

Though my Garmin read 6:00:08, officially, I finished in 5:59:56. A disappointing time, considering my goal of an hour quicker and my personal best 7 minutes sooner.

After the finish, it was off to the TNT tent to check in and off to get pictures taken. Then to get my stuff and head on home.

Happy to be done? You betchya!

Swag: Long Sleeve T, medal and finishers coin.

The Marine Corps Marathon is like no other. It's called "The People's Marathon" as it offers no cash awards so the elites stay home. It's run by the Marines, who man every water station and are everywhere on the course. It is an amazing event.

It was a long day, but a good day. At the end of it all, I can only attribute my issues to training. Having not completed the 20 miler three weeks before, I was basically tapering from the 18 miler six full weeks prior. Not exactly the plan. It's hard to understand the impact of being sick as well. With all of that going against me, I most certainly have no complaints. I finished the event and raised more than $2,500 in the fight against blood cancers.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement. . . until the next one. . .


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Marine Corps Done!

Just a quickie -- Marine Corps Marathon was today. Finished in 5:59:56.

Much to tell. Will be a couple of days before I get it all posted.

Thanks for all of the well wishes and congrats.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Five Days and Counting

Marine Corps is just five days away. Weather forecast is dry and chilly -- perfect for running. Over the past few days, I've developed a bit of a head cold. I'm planning to be rid of it by race day! Regardless, it's getting exciting.

Marine Corps has some cool tracking devices. Check out here to get emails or text messages as I progress along the route.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seagull Century Ride Report

As the ankle and toe pains of the past week abated, it was time to look forward to the Seagull Century Bike Ride this past Sunday. Leading up to the ride, I was most concerned about the lack of riding over the prior six weeks or so. Only a couple of rides in that period. My longest "training" ride was the 63 mile Lancaster Covered Bridge Ride, nearly two months ago.

The weather forecast as the days led up to the ride was questionable. Chances of rain ranged from 20-50%. Regardless, the ride would go on.

I picked up my buddy Bryan early Friday afternoon to head to Salisbury. Along the 100 mile ride, we saw bikes everywhere. That really gets the juices flowing.

We checked into the hotel, hit the expo and hooked up with Barry, Lisa, Dan and Steve (the first three from the Lancaster ride) for dinner. For dinner, we found an awesome home made pasta place just outside of the college gates -- Fratelli's. Bread, pasta, desert, good friends -- what more could you want!

Finally, we were back at the hotel at 9. Bryan and I got our bikes and gear ready for the morning, then a bit of tv and off to bed.

Our alarms were set for 5, but Bryan and I were up long before. I think I woke sometime in the 3 o'clock hour and just couldn't fall back to sleep. (I did get a nice chunk of the new Dan Brown book read, though.) Eventually, we gave up and just started to prep for the day.

Looking outside, the wind was kicking up, but it was dry. So far so good.

I headed down to the breakfast bar at the Hampton and grabbed two cups of coffee. Bryan was concentrating on getting in touch with some other members of our cycling club -- HoCoCyclists. By 6:30, we were out the door for the 7 am rolling start.

We quickly found parking behind an Arby's as the college lots were packed. We got moving at 7 as the sun was well hidden behind the ominous sky. As we moved to the start, we quickly found one of our club members -- Matthew.

Matthew, Bryan and me

At our start, the roads were dry. By mile 1, they weren't. Not a heavy rain, but not a mist, either. This is a first for me. I have caught more grief over my wimpy rain and cold aversions than just about anything else. Not today.

Most of the first 23 mile leg was in the rain. About five miles in, we caught up with Barry and Dan. The five of us were flying through the miles. At the stop, we were averaging 19.4 mph. By far my fastest ride, especially for that distance. The first stop was at a country club. One of my hopes on the ride was to meet a Facebook friend -- Ann. I met Ann through a former coworker who knew Ann from college. I found a group of National Capital TNT riders and asked if they knew where I could find Ann. Low and behold, she was right behind me!

After the first rest stop, we were back on the road in intermittent rain. We arrived at the second stop at mile 40 maintaining the same 19.4 mph pace.

We led out the first five or six miles at an even faster pace, but after pulling the paceline, I dropped back and fell off the pace. Shortly after I was dropped, I turned into the start of a brutal headwind. The winds on the eastern shore of Maryland are legendary, but hadn't been too bad up until this point. It seems that mother nature was getting even.

As I approached the rest stop at Assateague Island National Seashore, I started to feel some of the toe pain that I was feeling the week before during my long run. It wasn't terrible, but it was certainly noticeable.
I quickly found Barry and Dan (pictured) as well as Bryan and Matthew. Aside from being a beautiful rest area, there was also home made breads in addition to the usual bagels and bananas. I think I ate a half loaf of the cranberry bread. Mmmmm!

The next leg was pure hell. No other way to describe it. Leading out from Assateague, I never caught on to our pace line. As the miles ticked away, my toe pain grew, as did the headwinds. It seemed that no matter which way the road turned, it was into the wind. At times, I found my speed down under 10 mph. I was being relentlessly passed by every kid and granny on two wheels. By 70 miles, I was actively looking for a SAG vehicle. My day was done. Every turn of the pedals was excruciating, but there was no choice but to keep moving. Even the thought of pie and ice cream at mile 83 didn't help.

At long last, I pulled into the rest area and hobbled off the bike. Bryan greeted me immediately. I was relieved to see him and the others, as I thought they might have moved on given my slow travel. Bryan grabbed my bike and helped me over to the medical tent. I had every intention of packing it in at that point.

Clearly, the toe issue is due to striking on the ball of my foot. That is where I land when running and where my foot hits the pedal. I hadn't iced my foot before, but I did now. After 15 minutes of ice, and a slice of cherry pie, I decided to give the last 17 miles a go. On the way back to my bike, Barry yelled over to me to see if I could adjust my pedal strike position. So I did. As we took off, I hung with the paceline for five or six miles, with little pain, then dropped back. Bryan hung back with me and took me the rest of the way to the finish.


After we arrived back at the school, we hung out for a few hours at the after party, then off to a big dinner. I am incredibly grateful for my riding group, especially Bryan, for getting me to the finish line. I would have been most happy to get a four wheel ride back, but two was most definitely better.

The issue with my toe is still a concern, but I plan to start Marine Corps in 10 days and what will be will be.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Near Miss

This running season has been one for the books. Since late last year, I have run without serious injury and I've run primarily outside. There have been a few treadmill runs, but most of my mileage has been on the street.

Two Saturdays ago was the big 20 miler in preparation of the Marine Corps Marathon, less than two weeks away now.

Over the past couple of months, I've had occasional pain in my big toes. Nothing debilitating, just a steady pain that would start after 10 miles or so on some, but not all, runs. That Saturday was different.

Everything was good as the run started out. Around mile 5, I had my first issue -- I accidentally ran on the corner of the sidewalk, twisting my right ankle. After a bit of walking, I was back on the run. No harm, no foul, so it seemed.

At about mile 8, I started to feel the toe pain. Mild at that point, I knew I could get through it, so long as it didn't progress. Unfortunately, it did. By 11 miles, the pain was so severe I had to stop. Walking was even more painful, but I had to keep going to get back to the car.

I totaled 12 miles for the day, well short of the 20 miles needed.

After arriving home, I laid down for an hour. When I got up, my ankle was in severe pain. I couldn't walk. I'm seeing my marathon run flushing down the toilet.

With the ankle pain mostly abated, I visited my podiatrist on Tuesday, who couldn't determine anything wrong other than a bit of tendinitis. I didn't run again until Thursday when I got in three big miles. Oy!

The ankle issue was clearly a near miss, but there's more to be seen on the toe issue, for sure.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Let Me Tell You About Some Friends

When I started blogging, I found some folks out in blogland that I quickly developed a kinship with. There was Dan in New Jersey (Dan's blog here), Pat in Arizona (Pat's blog here) and Mike (Mike's blog here) and Jenny (Jenny's blog here) in Wisconsin. They were all bloggers and all had similar stories -- weight loss due to changes in eating habits AND exercise. Running in particular.

These folks became a virtual support system. We'd celebrate each others victories and support each other's disappointments.

Dan and I have run together a couple of times -- in Philly a couple of years ago and most recently, as part of the same American Odyssey Relay team. Next month we'll run the Marine Corps Marathon.

Pat is the uberblogger. Still out there blogging on a regular basis, always reading and commenting on our doings. He's also the king of the running events. Pat does 5k's, 10k's, all the way up to marathons. Currently he's on a quest to run in all 30 of Arizona's state parks. Nobody outruns Pat!

Mike and Jenny moved quickly from running to triathlon. They inspired me to get a bike when injury kept me from running a couple of years ago. They saved me from the dreaded elliptical.

In August of 2007, Mike posted this: "IM now has me in it's grip, calling me, pulling me...I no longer find myself saying that I have no desire to try IM. I no longer find myself thinking that I could never do it. Now it is a question of when do I think I'm ready to try and where will I try."

Over the past two years, I have followed Mike and Jenny as they planned and trained. They struggled with training and with weight, but they persevered. Mike turned a fear of swimming into joy. What a couple of years it has been.

Yesterday, they both completed Ironman Wisconsin.

I am proud beyond words of Mike and Jenny. They have come so far and accomplished so much. I can't even begin to think of how difficult yesterday was and they persevered and they finished. (And, they signed up for next year!)

This morning I ran 18 miles and I'm feeling it. Do I dare complain? No. Mike and Jenny are feeling it a whole lot more!

Some day, the five of us will go for a run, together, all in one place, at the same time. Don't know where or when, but we will and it will be an event unto itself. There's nothing like a run with your friends.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Annapolis -- Third Time's a Charm

It was kinda wierd starting off the day. Deb was off at her high school reunion and the kids were at my parents. Just me and the dog in the house. Might have been my first time all alone. When the alarm went off at 5:15, Andy was none too happy about me forcing him outside in the dark at that hour. It was pretty funny watching him waiting for me to go back to the bedroom to go back to sleep. None of that on Sunday.

At 6:15, I headed down to Annapolis with a couple of neighbors. Brian knew a shortcut to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium so we avoided the two mile backup to get off the exit. Saved at least twenty minutes, for sure. Everything is going great so far.

As the 7:45 race time approached, the air was getting thick and the temps pushed into the 70's, but the sun was hidden behind the clouds. Going to the starting line with my friends Dave and Jill, Dave mentioned that he was going to be pacing Jill at just under a 10 minute pace. I figured I'd see how long I could hang. 10 minute miles would be a best case scenario.

The run started on time, but it took us nearly 6 minutes to cross the starting line. Once we did, there was surprisingly less congestion than I had expected. Just at the start, I heard my name called out from the sidelines -- it was Barry, one of my cycling friends (see the Lancaster Covered Bridge report) who came down to cheer on another friend of his.

As we left the stadium lot, the course headed first toward downtown Annapolis -- the state house building, followed by the waterfront. At the waterfront, about mile two, the sun finally arrived, much to my disappointment. I was still hanging with Dave and Jill, but it was getting tougher to match their 9:40 pace, so I dropped back.

We passed the Naval Academy and headed over the Severn River bridge with it's steep elevation, followed by a long downhill grade, followed by a longer, steeper climb at about mile 5. At this point, the heat, humidity and pace had taken a toll as I walked through a water station to the top of the hill.

The next few miles were through some beautiful neighborhoods with plenty of folks out to cheer us on. Some even set up some makeshift refreshment stops: water, oranges, sprinklers and beer. Yes, beer! Not quite ready for that at mile 6!

Through mile 6, I was still at a 10 minute average pace, but a half mile down hill, leading into an uphill return ended that run. It was great to see some runner friends going the other way as I headed down hill. Lots of shouting out to the crowds.

As the course left the neighborhoods of Annapolis, we returned over the Severn River and back toward the stadium. The constant ups and downs took a lot out of me, but I was able to kick it up a notch in the last half mile with a final sub 10 minute split.

After two did-not-start's the previous two years, finally, I crossed the finish line. I felt different than I had for any other event. For the first time, I truly felt like a middle-of-the-pack runner. I did great on time, finishing in 1:43:26, a pace of 10:21 and there were more than a thousand runners finishing behind me on a very humid day and challenging (hilly!) course.

Unlike other events, the A-10 hands out their premium only after the finish. Quite a sweet long sleeve zip shirt.

After I picked up my shirt, I headed over to the finishers area for water and snacks. During and after the run I ran into many folks from just about every facet of my life including a couple from my morning boot camp, at least a dozen Team In Training friends, Katie, a blogger friend who was manning a couple of water stops, my neighbors that I came with, Barry, that I mentioned earlier and, of course, Dave, Jill, Stacey and Scott, who were there when this whole running thing got started three years ago.

I can't begin to tell you how cool it was to feel so totally imersed in this running community.

For their part, the Annapolis Striders put on a fantastic event. Plenty of water and Gatorade stops, tons of volunteers, great swag, including an icy towel at the finish. I've got June 1, 2010 on my calendar to sign up for the 35th installment.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

At Long Last . . . Annapolis!

In 2007, Runner's World rated the Annapolis 10 Mile Run (A10) as one of the Six Big 10-Milers To Run. It's an incredibly popular run that fills all 4000+ spots in under a week. The run starts and ends at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium and is supposedly a beautiful, tough run.

That same year, I signed up for the run and fretted about being able to make the strict two hour time limit. That didn't matter as I wound up sidelined due to plantar fasciitis and doctors orders not to run.

In 2008, I signed up again. I was less concerned about the time, but I knew I'd be within a few minutes of the cutoff. Shortly after the Frederick Marathon, foot and ankle issues sidelined me once again.

Undeterred, I signed up once again this year. It's been a healthy summer of running and in less than half a day, I'll start and finish my first A10.

Other than Frederick, this is the most excited I've been about a run. I'm looking forward to seeing lots of friends. Finishing the run onto the field where our Midshipmen play ball just gives me chills.

With that, it's time to try to get some sleep. Race report to come.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Covered Bridges

A couple of Sunday's ago was the Lancaster, PA Covered Bridge Bike Ride, a 100k (62 mile) event. This was a late addition to the calendar for 2009. I had planned to ride the St. Michael's Century in September, but they nicely scheduled the ride for Rosh Hashana. Time for plan B.

One of my Team in Training group mentioned this ride about a week before, so I put the word out to my Sunday riding group. Barry, his wife Lisa and another friend, Dan, were already planning to ride and they had room for one more. I was in!

We hit the road early and, after heavy traffic into the event, we were on our way by 9 am.

It's pretty easy to change terrain within an hour or two from home. In 90 minutes, we could be riding on flat-as-a-pancake eastern shore roads. Based on a conversation I had with another friend, I thought this was going to be pretty flat.

Wrong! The hills were different than the local roads -- less steep, but longer climbs.

Though I was concerned about keeping up with the group, I felt great getting out there and alternated throughout the day with each of my three rider friends.

The course was very crowded with a record 4,000 riders for the three distances. At times, the most difficult part was dealing with some of the novice riders who didn't understand what "on your left!" meant. (Not kidding -- a couple actually were heard saying "why do they keep saying 'on your left'". Oy!)

The weather was just about perfect. Well, rain would been worse. The forecasted low 80's was only off by ten degrees. It got pretty brutal out there toward the end of the ride.

So enough of the whining. The ride was a blast. The roads were crowded with Amish wagons as well. Of course, the Amish vehicles are horse powered. Good news was we all managed to miss the horse poop covering the roads. (I can only imagine hitting one of the poop patches and, if you manage to stay upright, you'd be riding with the poop smell for the rest of the ride.) The scenery was fantastic. Six covered bridges. Lots of farmland. Even Floyd Landis' parents house.

Almost home -- fifth of six covered bridges: (l to r) Dan, Barry, Lisa and me.

As we finished the ride at nearly 3pm (the time I had said that I'd be home -- I mean MY home), we were pooped from the long hot day. We averaged better than 15 mph for the 63+ mile ride, which turned out to be about 80% as hilly as our home roads.

On our way home, we hit the Plain and Fancy Restaurant, one of Barry and Lisa's favorites. This was a meal that took me back to days of old: fried chicken, sausage, roast beef, pot pie, mashed potatoes, iced raisin bread, apple pie. Oh yeah, they did have green beans. . . drowned in butter! What a meal! I figure the day was about a push in the calorie department.

All in all, a great experience. The Lancaster Bike Club did a great job putting the event on. Riding with Barry, Lisa and Dan was great. I'll be sure to sign up early next year!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sorry, Mom!

I was reminded a few days ago that I haven't posted in more than a month. It's not that I don't have anything to say, it's just that I haven't said it. What that means is that my mother has no idea what's going on with me. (Mom, you can thank Ann Marie for looking out for you!)

The summer seems like quite the blur. Kids go back to school in just a couple of weeks. I'm wondering where all the time went.

In July, I managed to run 77 miles and bike 199. Just about on track with my goals for each. I've had good and bad bouts on the scale. At the end of the day, it always seems to be a push, still running in the upper 220's to low 230's.

Last week, I visited the Baltimore Ravens training camp at McDaniel College. I went to McDaniel (then known as Western Maryland College) for five semesters from 1982 through 1984. They were fun years . . . too much fun for me, which I why I ultimately transferred and graduated from a different college. I had a tough time finding a picture that I could post without doing a bit more self incrimination that I'm prepared for, at least until my kids are, say, 40 or so. The picture to the right is me and Chuck. (I'm on the left, in case you weren't sure.) It's from 1984.

Anyway, it was neat to go back on campus. Oh, the memories.

While I was there, I saw some old friends that work at the college now -- George and Robin Brenton. They were great friends. We'd lost touch a bit over the years, except for holiday cards, but seeing each other brought back some more memories.

There was the time that Robin, another friend Mike, and I had all failed Dr. Rosenzweig's Calculus test. In fact, the whole class failed the test, except for a couple of brainiacs. He agreed to a retest -- at 7 pm on a Friday night, following the lacrosse game against our arch rivals -- Gettysburg College. Not a good combination in the days when the drinking age was just 18. Anyway, if I recall correctly, I got a D+ on the retest, Robin a D and Mike a D-. That was when I decided it might be best to change my major from math to economics.

Jeff and Robin -- August 2009

It was great to see them. I also ran into a few other friends that day from different parts of my former life just up to see the Ravens. It was a pretty neat day.

Today, Deb pulled out a couple of plastic bags full of hats. She wanted me to go through them to see what we could yard sale or donate to Goodwill. Once upon a time, I collected hats. You see, when ever I would travel, I couldn't buy a t-shirt. It just wouldn't fit. So I bought hats. Must have gone through 50 hats today. At least half a dozen still had tags on them! Wonder if we can sell the for retail at the yard sale.

So there you have a couple of tidbits. I've got another post coming about the Lancaster Covered Bridge Ride, but that's another day or two away and I didn't think I could keep my mom waiting any longer.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pedaling and Paddling, 2009 Style

When Pedal and Paddle 2009 was announced, I immediately added it to the calendar. This is one of the most unusual events I've ever heard of. Our local community, Columbia, MD, has 23 outdoor pools. The idea is to start at one pool, cycle from one to the next and swim a lap (out and back) at each. If there is a slide, we slide, too. It's not an event for the feint of heart -- the roads are all heavily traveled and the distances range from a mile to 5 miles between.

Deb asked a few weeks ago when I was going to do some training laps. Hmmm, how about not. I did laps last August. I'm pretty sure without any actual instruction that the laps wouldn't help much. I'll just suck it up and go.

The weather was about as perfect as it could be -- temps in the mid-80's and dry. I pulled into the Dasher Green pool lot and saw far more people that I had expected. Turns out there were about two dozen, double the best year ever, and far more than the five that rode last year. Ed made some announcements, gave out some swag from the charity that we were supporting -- The Ulman Cancer Fund -- and we were off just after 10 am.

It must have been quite a sight to see this paceline with so many riders in the middle of town. We ticked off the first group of pools pretty quickly, but a long red light split us up. Then the trip out to River Hill, the farthest ride between pools to and from, further segregated the group.

One of the leaders, Lou, had boasted last year that he wasn't ever last in the swim as he had been in the past. I took that title. Unfortunately for me, I had improved little over the year since. The onslaught of new riders this year were triathletes so I continued to fall behind in the pool.

As we crisscrossed Columbia, we'd all pass each other and there was definitely a sense that we were together, just not all together.

At number 14, an oasis appeared -- a 7-11. Our one and only refueling stop. At this point, the group rejoined and checked out the goods. There we were out in front of the 7-11 eating just about all the crap we could. I laughed to myself looking around -- hot dogs, candy bars, soda, pop tarts, you name it. Lou gave Jill a hard time for eating healthy trail mix. Personally, I went for the pop tarts. For the first time in at least three years, I downed a couple of my once favorite brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts. Ya know, they weren't nearly as good as I had remembered!

After the 7-11 break, we headed as a group to Dorsey Hall, my home pool. Deb and Matty were there awaiting our arrival, camera in hand. She had also prepared some goodies for me. Had to disappoint her -- sorry, love, I'm stuffed!

Me and Matt -- hurry, gotta go!

From Dorsey, we hit each of the remaining eight pools in workmanlike order. The group traveled together as a peleton, pulling into the last of 23 pools just after 4 pm. I was not last in the pool, but was last out, securing my second lanterne rouge title in as many years.

What a day! 1350 yards of swimming, 46.5 miles on the bike, 45 transitions, and a perfect day for it all. It was great to see and ride with some friends that I had never ridden with before: Scott, Stacey and Jill.

Thanks to Ed and Lou for pulling this all together! Can't wait till next year.

Group Photo at Dorsey Pool -- 17 riders still hanging strong


Saturday, July 11, 2009

3 Years and Counting

On July 12, 2006, I "ran" a mile on my new treadmill in about 22 minutes. That was three years ago today.

Since then, I've run more than 1,600 miles and cycled 1,900+. Not to mention the dozens of spin classes, Body Pump's and boot camps sprinkled in amongst it all.
In the last year, I have struggled with my weight. Although I've dipped as low as 218, I've also gone as high as 238. Most of the time, I've been in the 220's, including today's weigh in at 228. I'm disappointed with my lack of progress here, despite all of the other successes. Still about 30 pounds from that elusive goal. Still, down about 190 pounds is an incredible feat.

In a way, it's hard to believe it's been three years. It seems like just yesterday. In another way, it feels like I've been leading this healthier lifestyle for much longer. I also think of myself in a different way. My mind has finally started to catch up to my body. When I close my eyes, I rarely see the old fat guy.

To celebrate this anniversary, I'll be joining some others for the 4th annual Pedal and Paddle event. That's 23 pools, one lap each, biking from pool to pool, about 45 miles, give or take.

Time to get ready to swim. . . and bike. . . and transition. . . 45 times.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Marine Corps Time

Time to focus. Could it be that the Marine Corps Marathon is less than 16 weeks away? Guess I better get a move on a plan, then.

Last year for Frederick, I used the Higdon Novice 1 training plan. Bumping up to the Higdon Novice 2 plan this year with a modest increase in mileage. Now I just need to get myself situated and start to log the miles. I'm pretty close to on plan. Been running, just not on a formal plan. Until now.

I'm excited to be running again with Team In Training. It was evident a year ago that Team In Training does a great job at training athletes to run marathons, among other things. Not to mention the billion dollars (yes, with a "B") that they've raised to fight leukemia and lymphoma.

I was amazed as I talked to people last year how many had been impacted by leukemia and lymphoma. I met survivors, loved ones of survivors and, sadly, friends and family of those who had been taken by these cancers. This past spring, I read about a 40-year old guy named Andy. Andy and I crossed many paths, just a few years apart. Andy was diagnosed with acute myeloid lymphoma, a very aggressive cancer. Within weeks, he lost his battle. This hit me hard. There has been so much positive news. So many survivors. I know in my heart that Team In Training has made a difference for may of them. What I now realize is how much more work there is to be done. Running again with Team In Training was an easy decision.

I've set a goal to raise $3,000 to fight these blood borne cancers. If you donated before, please do so again. If you haven't, please consider doing so. Even if it's just five or ten dollars. Every penny counts! You can click here to go to my fundraising web site.

Thank you and keep tuned here to check on my training progress!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When I Last Wrote. . .

Still nothing new on the job front. A couple of luke warm opportunities out there, but nothing to get too excited about. On to the good stuff. . .

Last week, we took a family trip to Williamsburg, VA, leaving on Father's Day morning.
What a blast! A day and a half each at Water Country USA and Busch Gardens. The kids were amazing -- we went on every ride at Water Country and just about every coaster at Busch. (Well, ONE of us went on every coaster. Zach opted out of The Griffon and Matty did the coasters without loops.) Needless to say, we left wanting more. Our one day at Colonial Williamsburg was a bit of a bust. Kids lasted about an hour before looking for an out and Deb and I weren't far behind.

June turned out to be a pretty amazing month for physical activity.

58 miles running, just a bit under my goal for the the month. I had planned for an off month after a fairly high mileage prior three months. Now begins marathon training in earnest with Marine Corps just over 16 weeks out.

My bike has been busy. Without a doubt, my highest mileage month ever at 342 with an average of 38 miles per ride. I can truly feel the changes in my biking ability. I've tackled just about every major climb in my area (other than the dreaded Illchester Rd -- 9/10 mile at 18%!) I've gotten over any paranoia about the climbs and am even hitting them on my own (without peer pressure, that is.)
As for diet, I'm down a bit from my last report. Still running in the upper 220's, but that's a lot better than the upper 230's. Just trying to control the snack bug that I've picked up as well as not over indulging on long run/ride days. Need to bank those calorie burns rather than consume them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Long and Hilly Road

I had hoped to hear something on the job front by now, but I'm still waiting. Had a good interview but no decision yet.

The last couple of weeks has been a bit tense, to say the least. I've found a modicum of relief on my bike, spending hours riding the local byways. Since last Sunday, I've clocked about 200 miles. I'm amazed that I keep finding new local roads to explore -- the local circumference just keeps getting wider. That's thanks to my riding buddies. Another way to relieve the stress is to not ride alone.

What I realized two Sunday's ago was how high a level of concentration you need on a road bike. Running is great and you can really get lost in your thoughts, but if you don't want to get lost in your thoughts, riding is the way to go. There was a close call on the road that just reminded me how much more in tune you need to be out there.

How much am I loving the rides? I blew off the Survivor Harbor 7 miler run yesterday. My first healthy scratch. Instead, 50 miles around town, half of it with the hebrew school dads. Man, the weather was perfect. If it weren't for Matt's baseball playoff game, I woulda kept going. It was that great.

In all honesty, it's time for this frivolity to end and I'm truly looking forward to getting back to work. (I swear, the kids being on summer break has nothing to do with it!) In the mean time, just riding on.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Indoor Plumbing

Saturday was an absolutely perfect day for running. Sunday's weather for the Maryland Half Marathon, not so much.

I woke up to the pounding of rain on the window. Not as the weatherman had advertised. Driving up to the Maryland State Fairgrounds, Dunkin' Donuts coffee in hand, more of the same. By the time I got to the fairgrounds at 6:45, yeah, still more. I headed into the old race track and found a mirage -- indoor plumbing with no line! (If you've never been to one of these events to experience the pre race lines at the port-a-poties, you just won't understand what a big deal this was!) Went back to the car and dropped off my jacket. I figured I was gonna get wet anyway. No need to add the jacket in the event that the sun did decide to come out.

About 10 minutes before the start, I ran into Karen from TNT. We whined about the weather and then, as if on cue, the rain stopped. Finally, at 7:30, we were off. Even though the rain would not return, we were left with nothing but heat and humidity. I think I'd rather have had the rain.

I knew the course was hilly but I wasn't prepared for the misery to come. At least the first and last half miles were flat. Other than that, not at all. The whole course was hills. Lots of ups and downs. Some downhills too steep even to enjoy. At the 6 mile mark, I was right on a 10 minute pace. The sun was out and I was feeling very good. Half a mile later, a grueling, relentless 2+ mile climb. I held it together for that one, intermittently walking and running the last half mile or so. At 10 miles, I was still just off of a 10 minute pace. Could I hold it together for another 5k?

Mile 11 dictated no. The steepest climb on a narrow, hot, heavily traveled stretch was killer. About 3/4 mile walking and running. More walking than running. The rest of the way was a struggle. The last half mile was on the horse race track at the fairgrounds. They had plowed the sand surface away, but they didn't get it all. It was like running on the beach. It sucked.

At long last, it was over. 2:19:54.

I truly gave it my best and I'm happy with the effort.

Would I run this one again? Probably not. Though I'd like to tackle the hills again, at $75, this was a pricey event with minimal swag -- an unremarkable cotton t-shirt that didn't even have a date or note that it was the inaugural event.

On the positives, they did have plenty of support and liquids on the course. Oh yeah, indoor plumbing, too!


Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Been a While. . .

Time for a little update.

The weather in this part of the world has finally broken. The grass is as green as I've ever seen it and it needs mowing twice a week.

Good news is it's perfect for outdoor activities. With all makeup games from the spring rain we've had plus a Memorial Day tournament my youngest is playing in, we're spending most of our non-school hours at the ball park.

It seems like twice a year I go through this catharsis between running and cycling. The crappy spring weather kept me on my feet and I truly learned to love running in the rain. (No, I say NO, the cold and snow are NOT close behind!) A few mechanical issues with my bike left me a bit skittish and a ride a few weeks ago where I felt like I was spinning in concrete left me thinking I wouldn't get too many bike miles in this summer.

Alas, the catharsis has occurred. I could only dodge my biking friends so much. Last week and this, I rode with Frank, one of Zach's baseball coaches. Frank and I are perfectly suited, about the same pace. Only difference is Frank just likes to ride. No odometer on his bike. Just a watch on his wrist. Just like those runners who go run without an ipod, without a GPS. Not me, boy. I record every hundredth of a mile. Always want to round to the next nice neat quantity, too. I'll never be one of those people that just goes to go. If I don't record it, well, did it really happen?

My neighbor Kirk called me to ride on Tuesday. We headed to the BWI trail and, despite a five mile accidental detour (must remember, left on Wright), we knocked out 44 miles. This was the one that got me really sucked back in. Despite the lack of spinning during the winter months, I could feel the difference that Body Pump and boot camp have made. I felt much stronger and handled the hills on the way home much better than the two times I rode the route last year. Can't wait to get back out there.

Still running, but not as much. Next weekend is the Maryland Half Marathon, so after that, I'll dial back the running a bit until marathon training gets hot and heavy over the summer.

As for the job thing. Well, honestly, it's been a struggle. Still not a whole lot of responses. Some days are an emotional roller coaster. Opportunities that seem to be a slam dunk for at least a phone call wind up in the "thanks, but no thanks" pile. More often than not, an application is filed on the internet and winds up in the abyss. At this point, I'm considering some other options to the same thing I've done for the last 20 years. The market is tough. That's out of my control. Need to get some good news. Even a nibble.

The roller coaster has taken me on a small hit to the scale. Over the past month or so, I've trended into the mid 230's. Though I had bottomed at 218, I've spent most of the past 6+ months in the 220's. Need to get the snacking under control and stop the emotional eating.

I know what needs to be done. It's time for action.

Thanks to all that have offered help on one or more of these fronts. Just gotta keep workin' it!


Monday, May 4, 2009

Frederick 2009, Half of 2008

Back to the scene of the crime. Lot's of thoughts of last year's full marathon. I'll try to keep this down from my seven part race report from last year!

In the days leading up to Frederick, I was not feeling into it. Maybe the result of a bit too much running. This would be my third half in nine weeks, plus the relay from just a week ago. Total mileage run during race week: two. On Friday at boot camp, I felt a nasty pain in my left knee. Not good at all. Couldn't even eek out a mile on the track. My plan was to go easy and get to the start line. Whatever happened happened.
Saturday night was the big Team in Training Inspiration Dinner. This is a huge deal for the first time runners and their families. Lots of pasta, bread and excitement to get ready for the big day on Sunday. It was exciting to see Cherrie, my mentee with her family, as well as others that I had gotten to know during our training season, like Risa (whose pictures I've shamelessly stolen to post here), Joe and others.

Great looking group, huh!

The Team raised over $150,000 this season through the efforts of more than 80 participants. Awesome.

Risa was one of the top fund raisers this year. Way to go, running bud!

After the big meal, I headed home to try to get some sleep. The big question, other than the knee issue was the weather. Forecast was for rain -- go figure -- it's been that kinda spring.

I woke Sunday at 4:15 and immediately heard the drops pounding on the window. Great. 3 hours of wet. By the time I left the house, the rain had subsided. For how long, no clue. I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and headed west.

By the time I got to the fairgrounds, it was after 6. As usual the port-a-pot lines were long and slow. It didn't take long to figure out that getting to the start by 6:30 would be tight and I was right. I hit the starting line just a couple of minutes late. Too late to catch the 4:30 pace group (2:15 half marathon pace) that I had planned to run with.

So, we were off. As we ran through downtown Frederick, everything (my knee) felt right. It was dry, but I wasn't feeling great. Nothing I could pinpoint, just felt like it would be a tough day.

A mile or so in, I came upon Risa and Margaret. They looked great. Very excited, I could tell. We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I found myself pulling away. They'd do great. Keep it up, ladies.

A few more miles in, all was well, and I was on a pace of just about 10 minute miles. In my mind, I kept thinking about walking. My body felt heavy. Maybe it was the "a bit too creamy" dinner from the night before weighing on me. I kept going.

Around mile 6, I saw Cherrie. She was doing great. She had started at 6am with a large group of TnT walkers and she was all smiles when I saw her. Here, I slowed to a walk for a few minutes so we could chat. It would be a great day for Cherrie. I left her and started to run. That break was what I needed.

Finally, at mile seven, the long awaited rains came. None of this misting, it was raining. No problem though. Just keep going.

Who's the dork? The Wal-Mart water stop, mile 9.

As always, the TnT support was amazing. You couldn't go anywhere and not see a purple shirt. I even remember Karen from the exact same spot a year before at mile 11. TnT shines on race day!

The course seemed hillier than last year, though the roads were the same. I suspect that I forgot about the first half rolling hills compared to the nastiness ahead for the full marathon runners. Even that last half mile up a gradual hill seemed extreme. Nevertheless, I was able to run the rest of the way from the time I left Cherrie to the finish.

I looked down at my Garmin and saw what I could hardly believe. Despite the knee worries, the not feeling great, the 6 miles of rain and the walk break, there was a personal record. By 8 seconds! 2:17:56. Yeah, I planned it exactly that way, to shave a half second a mile off of my DC run five weeks before.

Time to go check in with the TnT'ers. Everyone was in wet, but great spirits. No problems, just lots of great running. Risa came in all smiles. Cherrie was ecstatic. You couldn't tell that the sun wasn't shining by checking out the TnT tent. Way to go, all!

I got home and took a luscious 2 hour nap. Thanks, Deb!

No rest for the weary, the fall TnT season start Saturday!


Friday, May 1, 2009

The Relay, In Sequence

I've resequenced the relay posts so that they read in order.

This LINK will show only the recent relay posts. Hope you enjoy the race report.

The press clippings where our team is mentioned are HERE and HERE.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Next Up: The Odyssey

This was originally posted on 4/21, prior to the Relay but has been relocated so that all of the relay posts can be read in sequence.

The next stop on the race journey is the American Odyssey Relay. The relay is less like a race and more like an adventure. It's me and 11 friends that will run from Gettysburg, PA to Washington, DC. We each get to run between 13 and 22 miles over the course of 36 hours or so. We start this Friday at 7 am and, with any luck, we'll finish our run on Saturday evening between 6 and 8 pm.

This thing started about a year ago when some blogger friends decided to put together a team. It was local for me, so I couldn't resist. Since then, seven of the original twelve dropped and we've been able to find some great folks to jump in.

So who's on the team? Glad you asked.

  • There's team captain and official Grand PooBah Karen, also known as Pokie. Karen gets to deal with all the b.s. coming out of the race organizers as well as figuring out some of the logistics from her home in Arizona. (At risk of pissing off the team captain, I always thought of her as a blogger, but I just noticed no blog posts in more than three months, so I'm thinking maybe she's a former blogger.) Her (former?) blog is here.

Katie blogs here. She's a fellow Baltimorean and one of the original team members. Katie's the VP of Purchasing. Katie's brother was kind enough to design our awesome team logo, displayed on the left.

  • We've got a couple of Canadians on the team -- Nat and Jeff. Nat blogs here. They're visiting the boss in Boston on their way here. Just hope they're not too wasted from that part of the trip to put in 30 miles on their feet later this week. I've been trying to speak Canadian so they can follow all the instructions. If they make it here on Thursday, I'll feel a lot better about all that language barrier stuff.

I'm the last of the originals and, with my current state of employment (or lack thereof), I've taken on the VP of Logistics role. Lemme tell 'ya, with 9 people coming in on three flights and from six states and provinces (Arizona, Arkansas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ontario and, of course, Maryland) the logistics of getting everyone everywhere has been damn near a full time job. (Wait till they all get my bill.)

As we started to lose folks that committed nearly a year ago, we were able to find some most able replacements, despite at least a few nervous moments.

Taryn is another Arizonan and, apparently, comes from hill deprived Yuma. Not even flat AS a pancake, FLATTER than a pancake. Since Taryn volunteered to run extra miles if were were short a runner, she instead wound up with a leg that even the race director recommend that this runner not be ashamed to walk. What's the big deal? Just a 4 mile "run" at a 5% climb. I've been pep talking her and I know she can do it. Taryn blogs here.

Last winter, I met Ann Marie when we were training for Team In Training. She was running the Alaska marathon. We were about the same running pace and we found out that we live just a block away from each other. Who knew? Check out Ann Marie's blog here.

Dan and Matt join us from the Garden State of New Jersey. Dan and I both ran the 2007 Philly Distance Run in 2007 and we've been friends since. Matt and Dan are in the same triathlon club. Dan blogs here.

Cheryl blogs here and comes to us from the home of my boyhood hero, Brooks Robinson, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Sorry to say I don't know much about Juliet and Jaqualin other than that they're from the great state of North Carolina.

By the end of the weekend, I'm sure we'll all be fast friends. Either that or we'll never want to see each other again. Given the no whining rule, I'm sure we won't know how we really feel about each other until we get our holiday cards. . . or not.

I hope to be posting periodic updates on my Facebook page (if you're not a Facebooker, no time like the present!) from the road as long as my battery holds out.

May be a while before I get a report here, though.

That's about it. Looking forward to sharing my stink with these 11 folks. Should be a blast.


American Odyssey (AOR) - Chapter 1 - In the Beginning

It would be hard for me to post the AOR report in just one post, given my tendency toward verbosity, so I'll break it down into a few easily digestible chunks.

Without recreating too much history, this whole thing started about this time last year. A couple of bloggers, Karen, aka Pokie, from Arizona, and Michelene, from Reno, decided to try to put together a relay team to run the American Odyssey Relay. Since the event was going to be so close to home, I jumped in quickly. We sent in our dough and registered last July. Over the course of the next six months or so, more than half of our original team turned over -- babies, job situations, and travel costs all led some to change their plans. We replaced all those that couldn't hang and, after much planning, the event was finally upon us.

Of my 11 teammates, I had met just three. The other 8 were relative strangers, other than some whose blogs I follow. I was hoping this wouldn't be the beginning of some kind of horror movie!

In preparing to go, the first order of business was the packing. We would be in ordinary mini vans with 6 passengers each. Along with that, we'd need all of our running clothes as well as support. Unlike normal running events where there are water and first aid stations at regular intervals, this event was essentially unsupported. We were responsible for our own water, Gatorade, food, first aid, etc. There were a couple of stops with services, but we'd need to be prepared for everything. Katie filled the shopping list, met at my house on Thursday and we were off.

Back of my CRV -- how's all this gonna fit in the van?

BWI was the best option for us all to meet, with so many different inbound locations. Deb dropped Katie and I off to pick up the rental van and then we waited. Karen and Taryn were due in from Phoenix at 4:15, but were delayed until about 5. When they arrived, we met them at the airport loaded their luggage and headed towards Gettysburg, about 90 minutes away, not including traffic. En route, we stopped for dinner at Ledo Pizza and a quick stop in the grocery store in Westminster and got back on the road.

Arriving at the host hotel just after 8, we quickly found the three members of our team already there and soon after, van 2 arrived. It was kinda weird to meet all of these people that we had been emailing back and forth. In my mind, I started to play through the horror movie scenario and quickly determined that most of the team could be trusted. (Not saying who I thought might be able to do it!)

The lobby was packed with runners. At 8:30, we headed into the open Team Captains meeting. Bob, the organizer, handed out a list of concerns. Mostly related to safety. Since we'd all be running on strange roads, he wanted to be sure we knew what was going on where. Also, he announced the winner of the best team name. That would be the team called "Four Score and Seven Blisters". That would be OUR team. Yeay! Amazingly, this team name was supplied by Nat, one of our Canadian runners. We won a case of iced tea. Woo hoo!

Our leader accepting the tea award.

Following the meeting, we had our own team meeting on the floor at the host hotel. After that, finally, it was off to our hotels to get some real sleep, sometime after 11. By the time I fell asleep, it was close to one, I'm sure. Just four hours until the alarm goes off. . .

Floor meeting.


American Odyssey (AOR) - Chapter 2 - And We're Off

The alarm went off way too early. In fact, three alarms, mine, Nat's and Jeff's went off in concert at 5 am. Since Jeff and Nat were in van two, I rolled out and into the shower first. My initial thought was that the four hours of sleep was all well and good on a normal day, but how would I be feeling a day later with not much more rest time. Not much that could be done about that now.

After dressing in my first leg running duds, I filled repacked and headed to the breakfast bar at the Holiday Inn Express. Coffee, ahhh!
At 6, we were at the host hotel where we were all to meet for the decorating of the vans. Ann Marie did a great job getting our decorations ready. Once we were there, it was time to relocate our bags, get the decor on the vans, do some window painting and get ready for our 7 am start. The weather at this point is nearly perfect for my money. Upper 30's, maybe 40, sun's out. Sweet!

Team 4 Score an 7 Blisters. Little did we know what the next two days had in store for us.

By quarter to seven, we were en route to the starting line. Seven teams lined up for the first starting time of the event. Seemed kinda low key compared to just about any event. Nonetheless, there we were. At 7:05, with much fanfare, Karen was off and running. The innaugural American Odyssey Relay was under way.

Karen is the second woman from the right.

So now, the fun begins. Van 2 heads back to their hotels and Van 1 is on for the next six hours, give or take. Time for coffee. We're off to the local convenience store to caffeinate. As we're pulling in, seems Van 2 had the same idea. From there, we're on to Transition 1. Karen finishes in great spirits and we're suddenly off to T-2, where I will meet Ann Marie and head out on my first leg. T-2 was at Boyd's Bear Country. Kind of an oasis across from the battlefield. Best part about it -- indoor plumbing! Turns out Ann Marie's leg was about a mile longer than advertised. Once she arrived, I was off for my longest leg -- 8.4 miles.

The leg was advertised as fairly flat, but the first mile or so had some nice big hills with road paving construction going on. Take a deep breath -- nice smell of tar -- mmmm! After that, the leg was pretty much one big square on country roads. Lot's of farmland, animals, manure, you get the idea. Oh, there was a funny sign -- right next to a driveway there was a long gravel road, sign said "Lover's Lane, $20, Pay Ed Inside". Now, I couldn't see what was at the other end, but it did provide a moment of comic relief. Still wondering how much old Ed makes off of his "lane."

I didn't want to carry water with me for that distance, so I had my team meet me at about mile 5. They passed me and shortly after, I met back up with them for a much needed water break.

The transition was next to a stream and through a covered bridge. Very cool. As I finished, Matt was next up and he took off. I tracked the distance at 8.55 miles and I averaged just under 10 minute miles. Not bad at all for me at that distance.

Some good came out of those leftover Ron Paul 2008 signs!

Matt was up next with an 8.3 mile run with some serious climbing. His leg ended at the Ski Liberty Resort. He kicked some butt on his leg and Dan was up next. Dan made easy work of his leg and then it was on to the big daddy of them all. The dreaded leg 6.

My new freind Taryn "volunteered" for the six leg. Taryn lives in Yuma, Arizona which, I'm told, doesn't have a hill in the town. Leg 6 was actually rated as the third toughest of the 12 legs, but leg 6 looked like a pretty tough leg from the elevation chart. Basically 4 miles at a 5% grade. Okay, so just do some treadmill training, I thought, and you'll be all set. Taryn seemed a bit stressed about it all.

Thankfully, we never saw this leg for real until we got there in person. The map didn't do it justice. Just a brutal climb to the highest point in the event. As we drove past Taryn, she was all smiles, just working her way up the mountain. She kicked some serious mountain ass. As all of the runners arrived at the summit, there were cheers from all the participants. Once Taryn arrived, she was presented with a proclamation from the team: Queen of the Mountain. She truly did us proud.

Queen Taryn!

Sometime after 1 pm, Van 1 could rest. We handed off to Van 2 and it was time to relax. One leg down, two to go.


American Odyssey (AOR) - Chapter 3 - Into the Night

It was good to see our Van 2 team mates. This was the first we had seen them since we headed off at the start.

As for our van, we were having a blast. Everyone knew at least one other person before they arrived in person, but we quickly became fast friends. As we drove along, we cheered for all of the runners that we passed, even gave a few a hard time, like the guy that passed Taryn half way up her climb on leg 6.

Now we've got 6 hours to kill.

From the end of leg 6, we headed out to the town of Rouzerville, PA, where we were told that the townspeople were very excited we were coming. They had a little reception set up in the Lowe's/Wal Mart parking lot. When we arrived, we went through their little set up and the off to the Subway at Wal Mart for lunch.

While we were in Rouzerville, the local paper was crawling all over the place. They interviewed a bunch of us and Natalie and I even got a mention. Check out the article by clicking here.

We hung out in Rouzerville until the team caught up with us and then we headed down to the next transition point for leg 13 in Smithsburg, MD. On the way, we continued to shout out to the runners. There were three legs starting or ending in Smithsburg, so it was a welcome transition point where we could hang for an hour or two until we were back on the clock. For the first time, we emptied the van of blankets and chairs and just chilled on the school grounds.

As the afternoon wore on, it would soon be Karen's turn to run. Dusk was approaching, so we got her outfitted in a safety vest and red blinky lights for her run. This run was fairly hilly and she struggled. When she arrived at her transition, she was in obvious pain from a cramp in her butt. Actually, what she screamed was: "I have a mixer in my ass!" Yeah, it's funny now, but it wasn't then. Actually, I must admit it was funny then, but I've got a sick sense of humor.

Karen trying to stretch the mixer out of her butt.

Ann Marie was the first to don a headlight, as we would all do until daybreak. She ran her leg and then I was back up.

This was my first night run ever. Though I thought it would be a cool experience, I'm not sure I'll voluntarily do it again. It's kinda freaky being out there on the strange roads. You hear dogs barking and have no idea if they're chained up or not. Then there are the locals: we're in farming community and the locals are most certainly not expecting to see us. They're also not used to seeing runners on their roads. You could tell when they were forced to stop or slow that they didn't like us one bit. Even the runner's waive didn't help. Okay, screw 'em! Enough on the locals.

My leg included a 1 mile incline at a reported 5%. The damned road seemed to go on forever. My speed had slowed and I was sweating like a pig in the high humidity of the night. As I slowed, the sweat was leaking right into my eyes and I could barely see. Just then, my team van pulls up and I'm able to wash out my eyes and get on with the run. As I reach the summit of the hill, I can see the lights of Boonsboro. Kinda like an oasis. Well, that's what they were calling it anyway. I finished the 4.6 mile leg in about 47 minutes. Not too bad. Now, where's Matt. Oh Matt? Where the hell are you, Matt. Seems ole Matt was delayed in the men's room. Oy! About 5 minutes later, Matt is found and he's off into the night.

The Boonsboro Oasis was a pretty cool setup. 5 legs started and/or ended at Boonsboro, including the next transition to Van 2. The setup was at the Boonsboro school complex, with a high, middle and elementary all sharing the same property. There was a live band, shower facilities and some of the high school clubs were selling hot food and snacks. I got a couple of slices of not-so-hot pizza and then signed up for a massage. Both vans were now here. Van 2 struggled to sleep in the close quarters, but they'd be on the clock before too long to run through the night. It was also pretty loud with the live band playing outside.

It was nice to hang out with some of the Van 2 folks. Nat and I had a quiet couple of moments before she went for her massage. When my turn was up, I took 15 minutes on nothing but my feet. Wow, what a great 15 minutes that was. I didn't even want to walk on them they felt so good. Suddenly the blister that had formed on my right big toe was no longer a factor.

Matt finished his leg, then he ran with Dan on his leg. Taryn then went out for a short 3.3 miler. At last, we were done leg 2. It was pushing 2 am now and we were starting to feel the effects of a very long day. Next stop, Antietam Battlefield for our next transition.

Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle of the civil war with 23,000 soldiers losing their lives. Question was, how would 100 vans full of runners fare in the darkness of the battlefield.

When we arrived, we found some parking but the place was very dark. In front of us were civil war cannons and some kind of building, but we saw no restroom facilities. Apparently, neither did anyone else. I can only imagine what that place looked like in the daylight. Sleep was gonna be tough. Dan decided he'd go sleep on a cannon. Yes, you read that correctly, Dan slept on a cannon. He said that he knew his opportunity to ever sleep on a cannon again might never come. Well, no shit! Taryn went out and found some real estate and sacked out on the battle field somewhere. That left Karen and I in the two front seats, Ann Marie sacked out on the middle bench and Matt out on the back bench. Somehow I think Karen and I got the short end. We figure we each got a good half hour of sleep. The others, maybe an hour or two.

By 5 am, we were all starting to wake. Time to find some coffee. I felt drunk, having not had nearly enough sleep for four nights now. We were all a bit punchy. Getting out of the parking lot with more transitions going on around us was the first order of business. I proceeded slowly, very slowly, so as not to hit anyone or anything.

We drove 10 miles toward Hagerstown and found a beautiful sight -- an Exxon station opened all night with indoor plumbing and hot food and coffee. Perfect! As I'm sitting on the commode, my phone rings -- it's Natalie from Van 2. Katie's running, better get back. Oy, she's ahead of where we thought she'd be. I finish my business, grab some food and head back.

As Katie heads back in, daylight is breaking and we're suddenly back on the clock for the last time, about an hour behind schedule.


American Odyssey (AOR) - Chapter 4 - The Last Frontier

We're now 24 hours into the event and it's crunch time. The forecast for Saturday was hot and humid -- expected to be into the mid-80's. Seems like we were getting paid back for the lack of warmth through the early part of spring. Prior to the week before, there was only one day when the locals could run on Saturday without tights. Well, this would change, for sure.

Even during Karen's last leg, we could feel the day warming up as the sun continued to rise over the horizon. Without a doubt the heat would take it's toll on us.

Karen finished her leg and was officially our first cheerleader. No more running for her. Ann Marie followed with a leg that also seemed to defy the elevation chart. As she finished, we moved to the C & O Canal towpath, a flat, crushed gravel, partially shady run. The relay would stay the towpath for most of the remaining legs.

I took the team for my last run for 6.9 miles on the towpath. I had high expectations for myself, given the terrain and the shade. Dressed in my usual Saturday Team In Training duds, I started strong, feeling very good, considering the lack of sleep and miles already run. At the start, there was another runner at about 200 yards and I was slowly closing the gap over the first couple of miles. Then things started to go a bit haywire.

I slowed down a bit and gave back the distance I had made up. At 3.5, I started to feel some pain in my right foot. I slowed again and eventually stopped to take off my shoe. Only thing I could see was that my shoe might have been too tight. I retied it loosely and began a slow jog, but my mind was telling me to walk. I was cursing myself for slacking. 7 miles is not a big run, but my body was arguing back. I walked/ran the rest of the way, intermittently running from one tree to the next to singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall to myself, just to get through the finale. When I finally saw the transition, I was able to kick it into a higher gear, but I was thrilled to be done. On average, this leg was closer to 11 minutes per mile. It certainly felt much slower.
Now around 10 am, you could cut the air with a knife. At each of the next few transitions, there were millions of little gnatty bugs. Almost like mosquito's, but since they weren't biting, I'm sure they weren't. They were just everywhere. You couldn't feel them when you were running, just standing still. Strangely, everyone had their hands straight up in the air. One of the other runners said that this would keep the bugs higher since they go for the highest thing around. I'm sure that there were lots of locals around who got a kick out of this little urban legend. Looked pretty funny to me. And it also didn't work.
Matt handed off to Dan, who handed off to Taryn. In addition to having the monster hills, she was also blessed to have the single longest leg at 8.8 miles. She started running at noon in the heat of the day. Tough leg. She did it though. Amazing.

As we awaited Taryn's arrival, we discussed with Van 2 the need to skip a leg or two. We needed to complete the run no later than 8 pm and, given the temps, now in the 90's, we'd likely be pushing 9 pm. The race official told us that there was only one team behind us at this point. She informed us that everyone must run 3 legs, so runners skipping a leg needed to run a leg with another. Jeff L. gladly gave up his 8.2 miles to run 4.6 with Natalie. Soon after, Cheryl gave up 8.3 to run 6.8 with Juliet.

At least one of us got more sleep than the rest.

Once Jeff and Nat were off, Van 1 headed into DC to shower off our three layers of stink.

The plan was to meet Van 2 at the finish line. Unfortunately, the park was more difficult to find than we expected. It had no address so we were trying to get there by feel in between DC traffic and construction. Juliet called me every minute or two as Jaqualin was due in any moment. We finally arrived at 7 pm and we ran through the finish as a team!

Team Four Score -- We're All Winners!

Once the results were posted, it was official: time wise, we finished dead last. Enthusiasm, no doubt we were first.

I'll be back with one more post -- dinner, brunch and some final thoughts.