Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our team needs help

You are going to groan when you realize that this is just another post about my dear friend Thomas Mills at the Superman Walks Project..., their plan to go to Boston or help empower people with special circumstances, or another story about how he and the team have had a positive impact on my life.

This post is different though. This post is about community. This post is about teamwork. This post is about commitment to do something bigger than ourselves. Tom has big plans, but he is only one man. We are all a team, but we are all a small team, and we recognize that we need help.
Last week, Tom was contacted by a young woman in Georgia who has a son. Her son is a very special boy, and he has very special needs. He was born with Cerebral Palsy and wasn't believed to have lived past the age of 5. At 9 years old, he suffers from a series of maladies including not being able to walk, being confined to a wheelchair, needing constant medical assistance, and having a G tube. But he is a special little boy, a real fighter. He is an avid STAR WARS fan (having been inducted into the Georgia Garrison of the 501st legion and trooped with them a bit), and lover of adventure, and a lover of all things comic/action figure related.

The mother of this little boy (who believe it or not, is also named Thomas Mills) is an avid mud runner, and her son has always wanted to go to the obstacle races with her. He recently saw a video of Thomas Mills III on youtube and told his mother that if my friend Tom could do it with one leg pulling another amputee in a wheelchair, maybe little Tommy could do it someday too.
My friend Tom was so moved by this whole story that he found himself asking why not? And so the idea was born that my friend Tom and a team from the Superman Walks Project would take Little Tommy on a mud run on June 29 in South Carolina.

We have run into a few snags though. The slush fund ran out and we anticipate that this trip will cost approximately $7,500.00... that includes the $3,600 needed to charter the bus (traveling together will allow us to properly train all members of the team), entry to the race, and almost all logistical arrangements.

We can easily cut $3,600 off the total cost if we can find someone with a school bus or charter bus company who would be willing to donate their time and their vehicle to us for the weekend. Otherwise, we need 75 people to each donate $100.

Or maybe we need 150 people to donate $50 a piece.

if 300 people each donated $25, we could hit that $7,500 threshold in no time. 

I hate asking for money, so lets not think of it like money. Let's think about it as help.

Superman Walks is a life changing experience. 
I always talk about Thomas's project and Thomas's team... but that's not really true. Yes, SWP is his brain-child... but this is OUR TEAM.

And like any team, we have to work together. This time, we need your help.
Because the reality is, this time, we can't do this without YOU.

For more information please visit the Superman Walks website or follow along at the Superman Walks Facebook Page.

To make a quick donation to Tommy's Fund please use this button:

To join the team for this event, please leave me a message here and I will be in touch with you about the next steps.

To get in touch with Thomas at Superman Walks you can call him at 561-797-0104 or email him using this form.
You all know how much I hate to ask, but how can you get what you really need if you never really ask?

Please help us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Joy of Running Together- Partie Deux

A couple of weeks ago, I made a post about a beautiful sculpture called The Joy of Running Together which I had seen while traveling to Spokane, Washington in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing. At the time of seeing this gorgeous sculpture, I was struggling with the intersection of various aspects of my life. You see, I like to compartmentalize. As a doctoral candidate doing research on some really heavy stuff, I have used running to help cope with some of the difficult topics that I study (including prejudice, discrimination, terrorism, Islamophobia, and hate studies). As someone born and raised in New England... Boston is near and dear to my heart.

The Boston Marathon bombing wound up being this weird intersection of the various aspects of my life... I struggled with how to process everything that was happening. I struggled with what this bombing would mean for my research (particularly as I entered into the proposal stage for my dissertation), I felt derailed. I felt scared. I felt sad. And I felt angry. Really, really angry.

And so, on that trip to Spokane Washington (where I was on a panel presenting about the social aspects of why terrorism works, and how terrorists successfully recruit and indoctrinate), when I saw this gorgeous sculpture by David Govedare, I was able to have a real moment. At this sculpture, I was afforded the opportunity to grieve and mourn, in ways I hadn't been able to prior.

And of course, when I got home, I wrote. Over the years, I've had a succession of blogs... but for a lot of my friends, this is the first time they have had access to my writings. They frequently tell me that I write too much, that I am long-winded, or that what I write is just boring. But I don't write for them. I write for myself. 

I write hoping that I will create a record to remind me of things when my own memory is fading. I write in hopes that people might know who I am should I not wake up tomorrow morning. I write in hopes that I will be my own inspiration. I sometimes write hoping I can be an inspiration to others. And a lot of the time, I write to provide healing and closure.

And sometimes, when I have written about specific people and the impact they have had on me, I will put my heart on my sleeve and send them a message to let them know that they inspired me in some way.

Which was what happened when I wrote the blog post about Mr. Govedare's Joy of Running Together.

But then something crazy happened. He emailed me back. And he wanted me to call him.

And what was crazier, was that I did.

It was an awkward conversation at first. He told me a little about the way that this sculpture was made, he talked about the meaning behind it. Then he told me that he was a spiritual man and that (as weird as it sounds) he had a feeling that someone from the Boston area would see this sculpture in the aftermath of the bombing and be moved by it. He asked a little about me.

And I don't know why, but I started rambling about my research, about why I was in Spokane to have seen his sculpture, about what running means to me, and then about my friend Thomas Mills who is working hard to get the funding together to take the Superman Walks Project to Boston to work with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Then he asked if he could send some prints of his Joy of Running Together. He wanted to send me one, but he wanted to send a stack out specifically for Tom to take with him on his Boston trip. Perhaps Tom would want to give them to the victims of the bombing. Perhaps he would just want to put them up on the street. Whatever Tom felt that he wanted to do with these prints was up to him...

It certainly is a neat idea... that maybe this sculpture that impacted me so deeply may be able to impact others who haven't had the opportunity to visit Spokane, Washington.

The prints arrived the other day. They are spectacular. Each and every one of them is signed.  Now I just have to get them to Tom!

But to be honest, I am just really excited to see what happens next.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Loud Shoeslaces...

In preparation for my big week-long running adventure in the Center of the Nation in September, I went out this weekend and bought new running shoes.

If you recall, running shoes have been an issue for me. I've got a really neutral stride, but I tend to burn through the treads on my running shoes fairly quickly. I had worn through the treads on the balls of my feet in my Brooks Ghost 5 shoes that I had been wearing last fall, and desperately needed a replacement after only about 180 miles. I am not sure how experts expect runners to get approx 300-350 miles on a pair of shoes... but whatever...

It is possible that because I was running a lot of longer distances, that the breakdown on the treads and the insoles was accelerated, but still, there is a significant difference between the 300-350 miles I should be expecting and the 180 miles I actually got.... and trust me, I probably should have replaced them at approx 160 miles.

Regardless, in early February, I went to the local running store (which incidentally is becoming less and less uncomfortable over time), and talked to the experts. We all came to the mutual agreement that with my foot issues, and with the way I wear down the treads on my shoes...although I would prefer to be barefoot all the time and although the rest of the running world seems to be going in a minimalist direction, I needed something a bit heavier duty. So we settled into the Brooks Glycerine. Unfortunately, they only come in my width in pink and grey, but beggars can't be choosers.

So up until last week my Glycerine's logged about 113 miles of running on them. the treads are holding up far better than my Ghost 5's were at the same amount of mileage. And yes, before anyone asks me, I *do* keep a really detailed log of my runs, my mileage, the environmental conditions, and my body's responses to the runs...

I have long since been aware that in the great debate of running shoes, seasoned runners suggest having at least 2 pair of shoes to alternate between, particularly if in the rainy season, or if logging a lot of miles daily. According to some, allowing your shoes a day off between runs will not only allow it to air out and dry (if need be), but it will allow some of the bounce to return to the rubber in the footbed. That makes sense to me, and for awhile, I thought that as I entered into the training for my first marathon, I might want a second pair of shoes.

But knowing that I am going to be logging some serious mileage this summer training for 6 halfs in 6 days, knowing my luck, I would wind up destroying my older shoes right before the races and be stuck having to do my birthday trip while still breaking in a fresh pair of shoes. OUCH. That definitely doesn't sound like a good time to me.

Thinking of that sealed the deal. I went out this weekend and bought 2 pair of running shoes. And because they only come in my width in one color... yes, I bought 2 pair of identical shoes, that are identical in model and color to the shoes that I already have. I hear the new model will be out later this summer, and it will be blue instead of pink... but who has time for that? I sure don't.

Instead we resort to different colored shoelaces to tell them apart. What do you think, are the dayglo orange ones loud enough?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy Birthday (to me)

It started as a joke between Ray and I. It was just a way to ensure I got all 13 of my half marathons in before the end of the year... particularly because I knew that I would get really busy again with work in the fall.

I had found a running series that would take me through 5 states in 5 days, the week before my birthday in September.

And considering that the week before my birthday always tends to be high stress and I always seem to wind up feeling let down after my birthday... it certainly would be an interesting way of celebrating.

It was a ludicrous idea and we laughed about how absurd the idea sounded. Because really, I struggled with doing 2 half marathons in 6 days earlier this year. But the more we laughed about it, the more I found myself wondering why I was selling myself short. I wouldn't admit that to Ray though.

But then my good friend and running partner Brina suggested in passing that she wanted to find a destination race so that she could catch up to me and finish 13 half marathons in 2013 too.

So then I joked with her that maybe she could do this 5 races in 5 days thing. OK, so maybe I wasn't entirely joking when I brought it up to her... but as long as I passed it off as joking, she wouldn't think I was crazy when she heard this asinine idea.

But when she heard this asinine idea, she didn't think I was so crazy. We joked about it, and somewhere along the line, we started wondering why we were joking about it instead of planning to make it a reality.

And so we started planning. And we invited our friend Seth along for the journey too. We've still got a few logistical things to iron out (specifically the airfare), but we are ready to do this, and take the Center of the Nation by storm.
Center of the Nation Monument
  • September 16: Bowman, ND
  • September 17: Belle Fourche, SD
  • September 18: Colony, WY
  • September 19: Albion, MT
  • September 20: Chadron NE
Doing this race would also catapult us past the Saturn, and Jupiter, levels of Half Fanatics to land us squarely on Mars (3 half marathons in 3 days), but Seth kindly pointed out that if we added a 6th half marathon, we would qualify for the Earth status (6 in 16 days) at Half Fanatics.

So of course, recognizing that doing 5 in 16 days would be difficult enough, we rationalized that we might as well add our 6th half marathon while on this trip. Because when you are already doing something insane, what is just a little more cray?

A desolate road in Billings Montana
Then the question becomes, do we want a rest day in there? Do we want to tack one on for September 21 (my actual birthday), or do we want it the weekend prior to our running streak? And how much recovery time will we need after 6 races in order for folks to return to their regular responsibilities in the real world?

After weighing the options, it ultimately all came down to money. Which race was still in the early registration stages and would be the least expensive to tack on? And so we settled on the Montana Half Marathon in Billings Montana on September 15.

We are well aware of just how crazy this all seems. We won't be pushing for personal records on our times (although I need to get one race with a PR to have proof of time for my upcoming Disney Marathon in January), and the races themselves (other than the Montana half on 9/15) have no man left behind time-limit policies. But we are still aware of how crazy it all sounds.

It is going to take a lot of training, but I'm ready.

And the motivation is tri-fold...
  1. I will be doing something that will challenge me more than anything has ever challenged me before.
  2. These 6 races on top of the 7 I have already finished total 13 and makes me hit my half marathon goal for the year after only 9 months.
  3. If I am burning approximately 2,130 calories per half marathon, I can only imagine the amount of birthday cake I will be able to consume guilt free!
That sounds like a win-win-win to me!

(Aw crap, what the heck have I gotten myself into?)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2012/2013 Season Recap

I had wanted to take a minute to recognize my first full running season and all of my accomplishments, but every time I sat down to write, I realized that there was just one more race that I wanted to complete before I officially called the season over.

But now, with the heat soaring to the 90s almost every day, I think the season is officially over, whether I want to squeeze one more event in or not.

And the reality is, that although I could probably handle one or two more events, I am not sure my medal rack could hold any more finisher's medals. With the new season starting in September, it might actually be time to explore other options for displaying them.

I had a couple simple goals when I started the 2012/2013. The first goal was to train for and complete my first half marathon. The second goal was to complete a couple of 5K races to get me used to the idea of actually participating in road races. I seem to have surpassed these goals by leaps and bounds as I completed 15 racing events.

Ultimately, this year I completed *7* 5K races which included:
I completed *1* 10 mile race:

And far surpassing my goal, I completed *7* half marathons:

With those 7 half marathons, I am well on my way to reaching my goal of 13 half marathons in 2013. I am ready to see what new goals the 2013/2014 will bring.

I've got some interesting goals and plans up my sleeves, so stay tuned for more info.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Armageddon Ambush - May 11, 2013

I wavered over what to call this post. Should I title it the way I title all of my race reports, or do I title it based on the real meaning behind the race. Because if it is the latter, the more appropriate title would be "A life changing experience," or the "race to bring it all into perspective."

Either way, that is what this post is about... both a race report, and about a life changing experience that brings it all into perspective.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Beach Beast 5K where I met an amazing man named Thomas Mills, a man who is a below-the-knee amputee who raises awareness about the needs of amputees. Then a few days later, I wrote a bit more about Tom, and his website (Superman Walks/ RAAAN), and about his experience bringing a man named Matthew (who had lost his lower left leg in a motorcycle accident 9 months ago) to his first Mud Run, and the empowering events that took place that day.

Upon hearing about the amazing things that Tom was doing, I knew that I wanted to be involved with his work, in any way possible. I messaged Tom a lot, and eventually we made an arrangement where Ray would walk the Armageddon Ambush with the Superman Walks team, and I would walk along with them as their photographer. It turned out that Ray's sprained foot wasn't doing any better (we would find out a couple of days later it was actually broken), so he bailed on the event, but I was able to still attend.


We were asked to be there at 9am to be ready to start walking at 10, but we wound up not really stepping off until the 11am wave. That allowed me some time to get to know some of the other team members and work with Felicia (Matthew's mom) in selling some bracelets to raise funds for their anticipated trip to Boston to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. I don't know what the final tally was on our fundraising efforts for the day, but the donation boxes were full by the time we packed them up in the car to head out on our race.

When it was time to start the race, there were probably about 20 team-members (the group got smaller as we progressed because Karma Athletes had a fundraiser for the superman walks project at the beach to prepare for, but it was a good turn out. We took a few photos and proceeded to the start line.

This was Matthew's second OCR, and while he had participated in an OCR in the past, this one seemed a little tough on him. The terrain was rough, and the bumps caused a lot of pain in his injured knee. He may have pushed too hard with speed out of the start line, and he quickly became fatigued. His arms were sore from the work of pushing his wheelchair, and his leg hurt from the vibration of the terrain.

But as sore as he was, he impressed me every step of the way.

As you may recall, I suffered from debilitating asthma and allergies. As an adult the asthma is a bit more under control, and after 48 months of immunotherapy, my allergies are a bit more manageable. I still get winded easily (particularly when going up stairs), and I frequently get down on myself and my own abilities. Then add in the fact that somewhere along the line this year, I developed a severe issue with the fascia across the arches of my feet, and when on uneven terrain each step can be excruciating. All of this is enough for me to kick off my running shoes and say to hell with it all. no more. I JUST CAN'T DO THIS.

But then to see the way that Matthew handles himself. It floors me. There are so many things that I can say about this event. I could tell you about terrain or the obstacles. I could tell you about the water crossings or the powder packs. I could tell you about the fact that this group quickly adopted an attitude of only going to fast as the slowest person. I could tell you about the amazing people that I met and had the opportunity to both laugh and cry with. I could tell you about the jokes or the water and mud fights. There is just so much to say.

But I wont do any of that. Because, no matter what I say, this was one of those things that you kind of had to be there to fully understand. So instead, I will tell two stories, and share some photos. 

The first story is about Matthew (and yes, I have asked if it would be OK to share this) and what happened when we reached an uneven balance beam obstacle... At first Matthew didn't know the best way to approach this obstacle. He was already in severe amounts of pain, and already feeling a bit drained physically and emotionally, and could not readily come up with a method of tacking this obstacle. He sat on the balance beam and scooted his butt across the beam, but quickly became frustrated saying that it was all pointless. He recognized that he wasn't doing the beam like it had been designed, and he was getting down on himself. When I asked what the problem was, he looked me dead in the eye and said this was something he could have done a year ago, and he wasn't going to do it like this. 

Before reaching the quarter of the way mark, Matthew stood up and asked for his chair. He was quitting the obstacle. I've been there. I understood the frustration and the feeling as if people were watching me struggle with an obstacle and fail. I've quit obstacles and felt angry with myself later for quitting so easily. The thought of Matthew quitting an obstacle without fully attempting it broke my heart.

I asked to speak with him privately and told him that I've struggled a lot with limitations in my life. But Amy, you don't know what it is like to lose your leg. As much as hearing him say that to me stung, he was right.

I DON'T know what it is like. And *thank God* for that. It absolutely sucks that anyone has to know what it is like to lose their leg, and it sounds callous, but thankfully it was someone else other than me. I am NOWHERE near strong enough to handle something like that. Thankfully, I don't have to know what it is like to lose a limb, and hopefully I never have to experience that, but we each have our proverbial crosses to bear.

We each have limitations. I have mine, and for years I allowed myself to be defined by my limitations (and I even sunk so low as to define myself by my limitations). At some point though, we have to step up and say enough is enough. I will not be defined by what I *can't* do. I will only be defined by what I *CAN* do.

I told Matthew all of this. And perhaps my delivery wasn't that great. Perhaps I came across as meaner than I had intended, and the next few days I felt awful for how I said what I did, but the truth is... I needed Matthew to try the obstacles to the best of his ability. I needed inspiration to get me through the obstacles that I am sure to face throughout the rest of my life. I needed to see someone else overcome diversity. I needed that extra boost for the next time I get down on myself.

Because somewhere deep inside, I realize that if anyone deserves the right to wallow in self-pity or to get down on themselves, it is someone who has experienced something so life-altering as unexpected limb loss. I'm not saying that he should do those things, but rather that I would understand if he did. I told him all of this, and more. And in the end, he agreed to give it another shot with the support of a couple of the men on the team. And we cheered. We cheered like we had never cheered before. And Matthew did it. And the smile on his face at the end, and seeing how empowered he had become by having given it another shot made it all worth it.

The second story is about me. The next obstacle on the course (after the balance beam) was a half pipe ramp that we were supposed to get a running start on and pull ourselves to the top of. I have seen this at events before... and knew that I would never be able to accomplish something like this for a plethora of reasons. I have problems with breathing when sprinting (something needed to overcome this obstacle), I seriously lack the upper body strength to pull myself requiring that someone help me, I am so self-conscious about my weight that I worry that people at the top of the ramp wont be able to pull me to the top if I need help, and lets not forget that dang foot pain.

Thomas knew that I had some significant reservations about this obstacle... and he insisted that everyone (read: EVERYONE) have the opportunity to overcome this obstacle.

And coming off of the inspirational high from witnessing Matthew overcome the balance beam, I was ready to give this ramp a try. Tom and Matthew's father lay on the platform and everyone else gathered around for encouragement, as I raced toward the ramp and began the incline. I felt that I was going to come up short and everything happened in slow motion. I gave one final push with my legs and my fingertips grazed Tom's. I thought for sure I was going to fall.

Yes, that's me!
But I felt hands close around my wrists and I realized my feet were still underneath me. Using them to help stabilize me, I pulled myself to the top, and did something I thought was never possible.

It sounds like such a small thing at the end of this post about people who are stronger than me and who overcome things I hope to never be faced with, but I cannot explain how amazing it was to go to this event expecting to help empower someone else to overcome life's challenges, and realize that I have been encouraged and empowered to step out of my own comfort zone just the same.

Ray and I are not new to obstacle races as we have done a few by now, but we are definitely no experts. Ray continues to want to do this type of event, while me, I am not sure that my feet can handle the uneven ground... I actually told Ray after the Beach Beast event that I was finished with OCRs altogether... but as long as there is a place for me on the Superman Walks Project team, I'll be there with bells on.

There is just something so amazing about being involved in something so much larger than ourselves. I am proud to have participated in this event and am thankful for the new friendships I have made. I look forward to next time.

If my readers don't quite understand how life altering this event was, I would encourage them to join me on the next event that I attend with the Superman Walks Project team. That way, you can see for yourself!

Go ahead. Join us. I dare you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Being "labeled"

I just wanted to take a moment to put up a quick link to Kristy's blog (The Runaway Bridal Planner).

Kristy recently decided that on Thursdays she would interview and spotlight a different runner. And last week, I had the priveledge of being that spotlighted runner.

A week later, and it still seems so strange to me that 1) I can call myself a runner, and 2) others recognize me as a runner. Let alone the fact that I actually am running. And not just running around the block either... like serious distance running. Like running running. Real running.

In my life, I've had a number of labels placed on me... usually they are bad labels. On the positive side, I've had people use the label "athlete" to describe me (when I was really active in martial arts and competing), but I never really grew accustomed to that label either. It seems the negative labels stick, the positive ones are harder to accept.

But that's not really the point of this post. Really, I just wanted to share the interview that I participated in, which you can find by following this link.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, I ran my worst half marathon ever... something I am still quite shaken by, but something I am trying hard to move past. The reality though, is that after such an awful situation like that, it is hard to move on. It is hard to motivate and lace up my shoes. It is hard to just want to keep going. The 5 year old in me is saying its time to pack up my toys and call it a day. The adult in me knows that this was just a temporary setback and I need to just keep chugging along with my training. Besides, I have some huge things in store over the next 8 months. Some things I've shared... some things I've been tight-lipped about. Regardless, now isn't the time for me to pack it in just yet.

I've since been to the doctor, and he suggested that there were numerous factors at play during my Terrible-Horrible-No-Good-Very-Bad-Half Marathon Experience including: the heat, severe allergies, dehydration, and not being fully adjusted to my change in diet yet.

And my recent change of diet has certainly required some adjustment.

It is hard to become a Vegetarian over night. There. I said it. And I put it out on the internet so that means I don't care who knows.

I've not wanted to say anything until now because I was afraid of what people would say to me... oh, Amy, you can't cut out entire food groups, or Amy, is it healthy to be running like you do and not be eating animal protein? or Are you sure this is safe? I didn't want condescension. I didn't want anyone questioning my ability to research things on my own and make an informed decision. I didn't want to have to defend myself and my decisions and feel like everyone else is the expert on me and my life... rather than me. And who knows, maybe after a week, I wouldn't be able to handle it... so why tell anyone about something that I didn't think would stick?

So now that I've been doing this for a little over 3 weeks, and now that I am adjusting to it fairly well, I feel confident in saying that this is going to stick... at least for awhile.

See, here's the thing... I know I mentioned it briefly before, but when I was in 8th grade, my science teacher was really big into PETA and I was exposed to a lot of their propaganda ... and I chose to become a vegetarian (I also spent a whole year during the vegetarian phase eating with only chopsticks, don't ask). During that time, I was in excellent shape. I was taking dance lessons 3 or 4 days a week, and during the winter, I was downhill skiing the other 3 or 4 days per week. I stopped being a vegetarian in high school after a 2 week period where I had an insatiable craving for a Big Mac, and I learned that a lot of the media propaganda that PETA was putting out included photos and situations that were taken out of context. At the time, PETA was also saying that it was OK to douse fur-wearers in red paint, and that it was morally abhorrent to not only spay and neuter, but also that it was deplorable to keep domestic dogs or cats in the home.

These are things that I definitely didn't believe in (and I still don't), but that contributed to my transitioning back to being an omnivore.

But eating animals has been weighing heavily on my heart recently. Partly because I've been thinking about my health, and partly because of my beliefs about animals, and partly because of my faith.

As someone who is Jewish (albeit a reform Jew so thus not-nearly as observant as othodoxy), I am supposed to keep kosher. I am also a serious bacon lover. I rarely eat other pork products, but bacon is a serious weakness. But my faith commands no bacon, and this has been weighing on my heart for a long time. On the other hand, keeping kosher can be tricky. You aren't supposed to mix meat and dairy, you aren't supposed to have grape products (wines or juices) that aren't manufactured by Jews, no cheese manufactured with rennet (an enzyme found in non-kosher animal products), you can only eat the forequarter of permissible animals, and don't even get me started on the issue with fish! No wonder only 21% of Jews report keeping kosher in the home (with portions of this 21% reporting that they don't keep kosher while dining out)!

I'm sure by now, some of you are also shaking your heads saying but wait, Amy, you want to keep kosher but you have tattoos!

Well yes, I have tattoos. I also have pierced ears, I also braid my hair, and I also wear mixed fabrics. But wait, doesn't having tattoos mean you can't be buried in a Jewish Cemetary? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Many scholars and religious leaders are still working out what tattoos mean for burial, but I don't have a lot of concern there. Besides, my faith also used to prohibit organ donation... something that I strongly believe in...

So now that I have gone off on a huge tangent, what does all of this mean?

I want to keep kosher, but it's too hard. I feel like I should be at least observing the basic rules of no pork, no mixing of meat and dairy, no shellfish... and aside from the bacon issue, I could probably do that... but that brings me back to bacon being pork.

Oh heck, why not just give up all meats again? Lets just follow the K.I.S.S. method and keep it simple, stupid.

Am I going to give you a hard time for choosing to eat meat, probably not. But I can't guarantee that I wont look at what is on your plate and grimace... after-all, I did go and watch some videos about how animals are slaughtered and what kinds of infections that the USDA overlooks when grading animal products as safe for human consumption.

But I will try my best to be understanding that what works for you might not work for me. As long as you are understanding about the same in return.

It might not stick. It might just be a phase. But right now, it is the best decision for me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

WDW Expedition Everest - May 4, 2013

No matter how you cut it, running at Disney World can be expensive. For people who have never run at Disney before, or for those who are in their first year of running at Disney, perhaps the costs don't really seem that bad...

But for those who have been involved with running at Disney the past couple of years, it becomes even more apparent just how money hungry that Disney seems to be. I suppose they have a great marketing plan. They realize that if they raise the prices and allow more people into the races, they will make more money because... well... they are Disney and people just love the Disney brand.

For me, I'm just not sure its worth it anymore... I mean, for the price of one of their half marathons, I could afford entry to 2 or 3 half marathons elsewhere. The Expedition Everest 5K Scavenger Hunt (last year) cost about what an early registration to a half marathon at a non-Disney venue would be, but I could justify that because this race (unlike other Disney events) came with admission to an after hours party in Animal Kingdom.

But then this year, they raised prices again. And it cost us $45 more per person. And then it became really hard to justify, because with 2 people, that is an additional $90 over last year... and that itself is a half marathon registration. Then lets not forget hotel, travel, food and drinks while in Orlando... and it just all adds up. Is that really worth it for a 5K?

Ray and I with friends Kevin and David
On the other hand, I have a soft spot for the Expedition Everest 5K... While not my first 5K, it was the first 5K I ran that gave a finishers medal to participants, that had an expo, and that was kinda a big deal. While I didn't consider myself a runner when I ran Expedition Everest last year (and I still struggle with that label now), this was the first time I ever felt as if I could really become a runner, and as if I belonged in the running community, regardless of how slow I was going.

So when it came time to register for the Expedition Everest race, we jumped on it. We realize that by next year we will probably be priced out of this race altogether, and that is OK. But this year, we chose to return to it... And I am happy that we did.

In the weeks leading up to this race, I had fantasized about running the entire 5K run portion of the course and getting a better time than last year... but life had different plans for us. Just the week before we went to Orlando, Ray hurt his ankle trying to scare a possum off of our porch, and he still wasn't able to put a lot of weight on it. Then the day of the race, as we walked around the Magic Kingdom, I watched his limping getting progressively worse. We were able to tape his ankle up tightly, but by the time we started to get into the starting corrals, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to do much more than walk.

This was heartbreaking to me, and he knew it. And in the end, he pushed himself far harder than he should have so that I could try for a better time than last year, but I am getting ahead of myself a little.

Kevin, David, Ray, Me and Carra at the start
What you need to know is that after saying hello and goodbye to our other friends who were running this race (including running into a girl I went to boarding school with when I was a freshman in highschool), we got to our corral somewhat late.

I'm a slow runner, so it didn't seem strange that we were in the very last corral, but I also knew slow runners who were 3 or 4 corrals ahead of us. It kind of felt like everyone was placed into the wrong corrals to start. And because we got into our corral so late, we were at the very back of the corral, with only a handful of people behind us. I was worried about this, particularly as our corral was inching forward to the start line and we were already seeing runners crossing the finish-line at the other side of the parking lot.

But the worry was for naught. When our wave started, Ray and I started strong. We didn't use our interval timer, but opted instead of run until we couldn't anymore, then slow to a brisk walk, then return to running when the pain subsided. This strategy, while not ideal for a long distance run, seemed to work out OK at this race.

The course was packed. I got a little frazzled when at the quarter mile mark there was a really large woman off to the side of the course having trouble standing up and her friends were screaming for medical (read: screaming bloody murder), but I had to shake it off. She really wasn't in any dire emergency from what I could tell, and so we kept going. Then I was a little frazzled around the 1 mile mark where the course bottle-necked a bit.

People go to Disney races and don't treat it like a real running event. They forget that you have to train (like the woman with the medical emergency who I believe entered the race without any prior training and was enticed by something Disney), and they also forget road etiquette. I just can't understand how people think that it is ok to walk 6, 7, or 8 abreast during a road race when the path bottlenecks to a point that is only about 4 feet wide. You tell them repeatedly on your left and they refuse to move. It doesn't make sense.

The race itself was fairly uneventful, although unlike last year, because I was running without headphones, I was much more aware of course entertainment, music, other runners, and my own breathing. We started at the end of our corral but quickly found ourselves passing other runners. Before we knew it, we were crossing the finish-line for the run portion and entering into the scavenger hunt portion. After the last half marathon and the way everything that could have gone wrong did, It was nice to have a really mellow run-of-the-mill event.

When we got to the scavenger hunt portion though, Ray's ankle was not wanting to cooperate anymore. Whereas he had been grinning and bearing it up until that point, he could barely hobble along, and just putting partial pressure on his foot was making him wince in pain. He's tough though, he didn't complain. But he also wasn't doing that great a job in hiding his pain any longer.

The clues for the scavenger hunt were tougher than last year (I thought) and we struggled a little with them, but all things being equal, we still had an awesome time.

Our final time was slower than last year, but if I'm being honest, I have to say that our race portion of the event was faster than last year. Guess our bodies move faster but our brains move slower!

5K- 44:30
Search time- 49:10
Chip time- 1:33:40

Even though we started at the end of the final corral, we somehow managed to pick up speed and came in 724/987 for co-ed teams. Color me impressed.

I wish there were more to say... but I got nothing.

We went. We saw. We conquered. And in the end... We'll remember it fondly.

But next year... we'll probably be priced out.

*Also, Just to put this out there... Ray finally went to the doctor this morning. Like he expected, they did X-rays. What he had thought was a sprain turned out to be a broken meta-tarsel. He's gonna spend a few weeks in a boot... and hopefully he listens next time I ask him to go to the doctor.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Singer Island Half Marathon - April 27, 2013

I have been avoiding writing about the Singer Island Half Marathon on April 27th for a number of reasons.

1) it was an awful experience.
2) it was a personal worst for me, and almost led to a DNF (did not finish), and probably should have been a DNS (did not start), if I am honest with myself looking back.
3) I was so messed up during this race, I don't remember great big portions of it (like the fact that my running partners had to remind me multiple times how gorgeous the course and the weather was).
4) I was so messed up after the race that I was sad, self-depreciating, and really would have rather forgotten.

But in the end, I write today because there are some take-aways from this experience that I could put to use next time to ensure that I never had to relive another experience quite so bad again.

The night before this race, I felt significantly under-prepared for my final half of the spring season. I posted to facebook that I felt under-trained, and I suppose I should have. I had just come off of a 5 day trip to Spokane, Washington and had only managed 2 training runs and a 5K race between my prior half marathon (which was a PR), and this one. What's more, I had just decided to start eating differently than I had been in recently (I will be posting a separate entry about this later, just note that while I felt like I had a ton of energy on a day-to-day basis, I wasn't sure how to properly fuel for this race). Lastly, the Singer Island half was fairly far from home and required an overnight trip. Brina graciously offered me her spare bedroom, but I have been known to under-hydrate when I am not at home... something that I am sure contributed to the problems I had during the race.

I woke up early the morning of the race, and donned the great "we are Boston" tribute shirt that Brina, Juanita and I had made up to run this race in tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. I wasn't hungry (as I hadn't been since starting to eat differently), I choked down a banana but couldn't stomach even the thought of my usual pre-race bagel. Instead Brina made me a piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter. Mistake number 1.

Before leaving the house, I heard the sprinklers outside, and thought it was raining. I was half hoping, that it was raining so we could back out of this race. My heart just wasn't into it, and I recognized that... but I also knew I was running for Boston. So I sucked it up, and we were out the door.

The race had a later start time than I am used to, so the sun was already on its way up when we started. As this was the last run for us for the season, Juanita chose to run at my pace (along with Brina), with the goal that they might be able to push me to a new PR (hoping to break the 3:15 mark so I could prove my time for Disney and move up a corral in my Marathon in January). It definitely didn't happen that way, but that was the plan.

The course was straightforward (so it seemed) with the first mile and a half being an out and back over the Singer Island Bridge that crosses the intracoastal, then north until we hit approximately 6 miles, then return to the bridge, over and back again, then an additional couple of miles through a cute neighborhood at the end. But seeming fairly straightforward and being fairly straightforward are two totally different things. And something was really off for me.

Our game plan was to run intervals to the base of the bridge, walk up the bridge, run down (letting gravity do the work, repeat on the return trip, then run intervals until we hit the bridge for our second out and back. By the time we hit the top of the bridge the first time, I was having trouble catching my breath. I took double doses of my inhaler, but it wasn't seeming to work. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was worried. We ran down the reverse side, then began the ascent again. Once again, I was winded, light-headed and my chest hurt. We tried to let gravity work coming off the bridge on the return trip, but I couldn't catch my breath.

We started to walk. I hadn't even hit mile 2 and I had to give up entirely on running, meaning we walked the next 11 miles. During that time, I never caught my breath. I never stopped being dizzy. My heart never stopped beating out of my chest. I was sweating profusely. And I was getting angry. My running partners were talking about how beautiful a day it was and how they wanted to go faster because they weren't even breaking a sweat and I was drenched.

I was really gassy and my stomach also really hurt. By mile 6, I was nauseous. Whereas normally I am chatty when I am on walking (either on intervals or in general), I found myself getting very quiet and closed off. And I felt the ailments mounting.

By mile 7, I was throwing up... although instead of dry heaves, it was purely liquid coming up. Waves and waves and waves of liquid. Yuck. So I tried to push more fluids and more electrolytes (in the form of nuun tabs in the water).

By mile 8, I was beginning to have severe cramping in my calves. Every step was excruciating. We were exponentially losing speed, and I was afraid we wouldn't finish in the 4 hour time limit. I've never taken over 3:36 to finish a half, but I was beginning to worry. And I worried that I was irritating my partners. I begged them to go along and leave me behind. At least they should still get good times...

But they wouldn't leave me. And at mile 9, while passing some park benches, I don't know what came over me. I just sat my sorry butt down. I called Brina and Juanita back to me and told them to go along without me, that I was ok with taking a DNF.

Seriously I said that. I said I was ok with not finishing and having someone just come and get me. Who does that?

And what was worse was that (and I had to be told about this later because I didn't actually remember it), while I was sitting there, I told Brina that I had been hoping it would rain so that we could stay at her house and hang out on the couch eating ice-cream all day. OK, what kind of alien life form was invading my body???

After going around and around about how I was giving up, Brina and Juanita got fierce with me and reminded me that I was wearing a Boston shirt, and the pain I was dealing with was nothing compared to what the bombing victims were dealing with in the hospitals. Well, when you put it that way... even I saw the hypocrisy in my giving up at that point.

So I got up and forced my body to keep going. By the time we hit the bridge the second time, I didn't think my calf cramping could get worse. But by then we were already at mile 10, and I had rationalized almost being done with the race. There was still one man behind us on the course, and as long as we kept moving, we could keep it that way.

On the return trip across the bridge, I was so dizzy, I frequently had to grab the railings to keep from falling over. The last place runner passed us on the down hill, and Brina (frustrated to find that we were the last 3 finishers) started to pick up her pace. I love Brina and do not resent her one bit for doing this, but I was freaked out to see her speeding up while I just kept slowing down and having more and more problems.

In the last mile, We had a police officer fall in behind us with his cruiser and give us an escort. Brina waited for us at the 13 mile mark so that we could do the final tenth of a mile together. The home stretch of the race was through a side street lined with bars and restaurants. The plan was for us to jog that home stretch and finish as strong as possible, but my body had a different idea. People in the bars were cheering for us, jumping up and down because we were the final finishers and I think that Brina and Juanita were somewhat embarrassed. I was embarrassed for them too. But I wanted to finish as strong as possible.

And I did. At least until I was about 5 feet from the finish line when my cramping calves finally called it quits. And just like this girl who hit a wall at her high school track championships (go to 1:31), I felt my calf muscles give out. I was so close that if I could have gotten just a little spring in my step I might have been able to throw myself over the finish line, but I didn't have the energy. Thankfully Juanita and Brina were there to catch me as I went down. It was like slow motion, and I saw finish line officials stepping over the finish line to help grab me, and medics reaching for me. The crowd was cheering loudly. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and hide... then pass out.

As soon as I was over the finish line, I was whisked into a tent and given some fruit and water and shade. I was embarrassed and exhausted and out of breath and cramping and nauseous and dizzy and a hot ball of mess.

I was ok with being the last finisher in this race and had joked with Juanita about who would take it, but in the end, I didn't have much of a choice. She was behind me holding me up as she handed me off to medical, causing her to finish last in the race. I didn't want that for her. She deserved better than that.

In the end though, last or second to last doesn't much matter.

We finished. And for me, that was all that mattered (particularly when I had been so sure we wouldn't finish in the first place).

Looking back, I realize that sometimes finishing strong means only comparing yourself to what you yourself are capable of. Did I finish strong by my normal standards? Absolutely not. Did I do the best I could with what I had to finish as strong as possible? I can answer that with a resounding yes.

HFs Brina, Me, Juanita and Seth at the finish
As a side note, I continued to suffer from the shortness or breath, cramping, nausea, heart palpitations, and dizziness for an additional 36 hours and I *did* go to the doctor the following Monday. I am fine now but now know the importance of eating right and properly hydrating as an ongoing issue, particularly when being a distance runner.

My stats on this race were awful, but for the sake of documenting, here they are:

Gun: 3:51:39
Chip: 3:51:12
Pace: 17:38
Sex: 228/229
OA: 382/383
Cat: 35/35

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Superman Walks

I want to take a quick minute to talk to you all about one of the most inspirational men that I have yet to meet. I officially met Thomas Mills at the Beach Beast in Ft. Lauderdale where he was dressed as Superman, but I immediately recognized him as a man dressed in a gold stretchy body suit and competing with Karma Athletes and who deeply inspired me when we participated in the Warrior Dash last November.

Me with Thomas at Beach Beast
According to their website, Karma Athletes is a group of hard working athletes committed to creating positive change in their local community. Karma has a great presence in the local obstacle racing scene, and though I do find them to be somewhat intimidating (because they all appear to be WAY more physically fit than me, way more attractive than me, way more capable than me, and because they all seem to know previously established relationships with one another), they are an incredibly inspirational group.

But then, there is Thomas. Thomas still participated in obstacle races as a member of their team, but it has become clear that members of Karma Athletes are also now members of his team as well. 

Thomas is the founder of a project called Superman Walks/ RAAN, where "RAAN" stands for "raising awareness of amputees needs." As a man who lost his lower leg 9 years ago after a horrible road accident, Thomas knows the special needs of amputees all too well. In the short time that I have known and talked with this amazing man, I have learned a lot about the physical needs of amputees, such as funding and obtaining appropriately fitting prostheses, and the reasons that many amputees wind up with ill-fitting or poor quality devices.

But what I have also learned first hand is the importance of the emotional and mental needs of amputees.

And I think that is probably what makes Thomas the most inspirational. Having lost his leg through traumatic circumstances, the grieving process was not easy for him. He struggled with a deep depression, began to lose so much weight he was wasting away, and contemplating ending his life. From the basic research I've done, this is not an uncommon scenario. He felt as if, by losing his leg, he life was over. He struggled with regaining some sense of normalcy, and a return of control over his own body and his own life.I don't know how he came to participating in obstacle races, or how the Superman Walks project came to fruition, but what I do know is that to hear of how desperate he was in the beginning to find meaning (ANY meaning) in his life, and to see how desperate he now is to encourage and inspire others to overcome obstacles and challenges so they can CREATE meaning, THAT is breath-taking.

Sometimes, in this crazy hectic life, it is easy to classify humanity as deteriorating and people becoming more and more hardened and mean. This has been true for me lately in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings. And yet, here is this guy who has done something that really just feels like warm rays of sun shining down in the eye of a hurricane.

Recently, Thomas did 2 amazing things that should have never surprised me, but did.

1) Thomas decided that in the wake of the Boston Bombings that he could help the young men and women who were injured in the attacks. Knowing that sometimes amputees have difficulty opening up to non-amputees about their emotional well-being and their fears and concerns... Thomas recognized that he could help some of these people to process their new circumstances. Thomas is still in the early planning stages of this trip, has secured some housing and transport while in Boston, but is still trying to secure the funding needed for this kind of time away. I wish him nothing but success. For more info please visit the Superman Walks/RAAN facebook page, or visit the donations section of his website.

2) This past weekend Superman Thomas attended the Superhero Scramble in Georgia and invited along a team of superhero sidekicks to assist recent amputee Matthew Pizzuto with participating in his first obstacle race/mud run. Matthew, a young man who lost his lower leg less than a year ago had yet to receive his first prosthetic, and was forced to travel much of this course in wheelchair and with crutches. Unbeknownst to Matthew, his family was able to witness the birth of a much stronger, much more empowered Matthew, and was awaiting his arrival at the finish line. I don't want to share too much of this story, because it is not mine to share, however I have to say that hearing about how strong, and how fearless Matthew was during this race... I'm impressed.

Thomas and one of his superhero sidekicks with Matthew Pizzuto

As someone who knows first hand what it like to be limited by disability and medical issues, to hear of someone else overcoming obstacles and helping others to overcome obstacles is spiritually uplifting.

Ray and I are joining Thomas's badass superhero sidekicks team for a mud run in a couple weeks, and I can't be more excited. I really look forward to being something so big and something so great.

Matthew, if you are reading this... you are awesome! And totally badass. I can't wait to finally meet you!

Edited to add... Thomas just sent me a video of Matthew's amazing transformation. you need to watch this.