Why I will BBQ this Memorial Day

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Disclaimer: this has absolutely nothing to do with running. But there’s something on my mind I wanted to put in words.

I’ve seen a host of Facebook posts the last few days sternly reminding us that Memorial Day is not for barbecues and beaches and a 3 day weekend. Attached to the posts are photos of people grieving their fallen soldiers, whether it be at a grave or at the funeral ceremony itself. The photos are touching and a great reminder of sacrifies. The admonishment, however? It’s well-meaning. But I believe it is incorrect.

Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for military history, particularly WWII. I’m over halfway through a Masters degree in History with a concentration on WWII. I hold degrees in International Affairs and Geography with an emphasis on military tactics. I worked at the Institute for WWII Studies while in college and spent countless hours recording interviews with vets in order to document their living histories. It’s been a love of mine since my grandparents, whom I adored, used to share stories with me of their wartime experience and my grandpa slowly began opening up to me about his experiences in the Pacific campaign, something he had never spoke of until he was 80 years of age.

So trust me, I mean no disrespect. Memorial Day is about honoring our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

And I will share with you my personal hero before getting back on topic. Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt Jr, in my opinion, saved us from defeat during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. I won’t bore you with the details because I could go on and on and on. But I will say this: he was the son of a former president. He didn’t even have to be there. He was a soldier’s general, so much so that Patton tried to ruin his career because he was “too casual and caring” with the men under his command. He cared deeply about this country. He was also old and had a heart condition. So when the invasion of Normandy was planned, he was not included in the operation. Roosevelt was not down with being left behind, however, and petitioned over and over until the decision was reversed. His superiors knew he would not live to come back but he would go ashore with his men in Normandy. 

Long story short, things went terribly wrong at Utah Beach. Under the fog of war, our soldiers landed over a mile south of their objective and they were penned in and frozen in place. They were young and green and lost. Until General Roosevelt, the oldest man in the invasion and the only general to land with the first wave, came ashore with a cane in one hand and a pistol in the other. You just can’t make this stuff up. He did a recon of the area himself, found a way out and told his troops “Well then, we’ll start the war from right here!”. And they did. Bolstered by the general, the soldiers fought there way out and back to Utah. They headed north, hit the enemy and the battle was won. Because of an old man with a pistol and cane who didn’t want his young soldiers going ashore without him.

General Roosevelt died of a heart attack one month later, still on the shores of Normandy. A few years ago, I finally realized my dream of placing flowers at his grave at Coleville-sur-Mer. I stood there and thought about his sacrifice and his bravery. After the war, General Omar Bradley was asked to name the most heroic act he had witnessed in combat. He replied “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach”. Damn straight.

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I don’t know why he isn’t really talked about within casual history accounts of WWII. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for pete’s sake. But I will talk about him, and honor him and remember him. Along with every single other man and women who has died to preserve my freedom.

Which brings me back to my original point. Monday morning I’ll wake up and head out to Florida National Cemetery to visit my grandparents. I’ll also pause at the tombstones of their neighbors, many who are way too young to be buried and gone. But then I will go home and enjoy the sunshine on my face and the smell of BBQ and we’ll watch some baseball.

Why? Because that *is* honoring our fallen soldiers. They fought and fell on the battlefield in a bid to preserve our way of life. They fought for freedom, for families, for our American way of life and all the blessings that come with it. And I can’t help but think that they would approve of seeing Americans out enjoying all that this land offers us, thanks to their sacrifice.

So please, don’t feel guilty for enjoying your three day weekend and all that it encompasses. Feel gratitude instead. I think that is what our fallen heroes would prefer.

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The Next Step

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I’ve been contemplating a big decision for awhile now. I’m enjoying this running journey I’ve been on the past two years but I’ve hit a crossroads. I can keep doing what I’m doing. I struggle through and finish my races but I’m not getting any better. Sure, I have fun. Sure, I have the same finisher medals as everyone else. But my improvement has stagnated. And I wasn’t sure how to feel about it.

But the more I contemplated, I know how I feel about it. It’s not ok.

See, I want to run for enjoyment. For health. For friendship and camaraderie. I’m not a competitive person by nature. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to push myself and jump out of my comfort zone. To see what I’m capable of.

It’s time to make a change.

So yesterday, I made a big one. I signed up for a running coach. Lee Shaw is an amazingly gifted runner who has started his Next Level Coaching. He offers personalized training plans and a lot of tough love. He’s a brilliant runner and, just as importantly to me, a really good person. I trust him. He says I’m capable of improvement with hard work, so I’m going to improve with hard work.

Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely NOT going to be warm and fuzzy. Lee is, ummm, brutal. He doesn’t mince words. He pushes and pushes and pushes. He’s not going to give me a pat on the back, or empathy, or anything like that. But he will help me be better. So I’m in.

I should also note at the end of the day, the coaching alone isn’t going to get this done. Lee can be the best coach in the world but I’m not going to get better unless I buy into the process. I need to clean up some areas of my life. I need to plan. I need to drop some weight, get a more consistent training schedule and find a way to get 8 hours of sleep each night. I’m giving myself from now until the weekend to come up with a schedule that will fit around my ridiculous job, my family obligations and my music. Any tips on organizing my life would be appreciated. I need quick healthy meal ideas. I need help on how to fit runs into 12 hour work days (I’ll be running 4-5 days per week instead of my 2-3 right now). I need ideas of how to work on my core and incorporate weight training into my routine.

I’m terrified but excited. Stepping out of my comfort zone has been the central theme in my life since starting this adventure so why change now?

And just like that…

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I haven’t really wanted to say this out loud. But I’ve been a little worried the past month or two. You see, ever since I got home from Princess Half Marathon weekend I’ve been burned out. I’ve gone out for a run exactly one time since then. All of the conditioning and progress I’ve made has been rapidly disappearing. The worst part? I haven’t really cared. It’s worried me. Did this mean my days of running were numbered?

Blah. I’ve just felt blah.

So I had a little hesitation when early registration opened for the 2015 Disney Marathon Weekend. Did I really want to invest the money for something that I wasn’t particularly excited for? But I’m a sucker for Disney. And a sucker for my running buddies. And I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to push myself a little bit harder. $383.90 later, I’m now registered for Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. 39.3 miles in 2 days. A freaking ton of training coming my way. A scary big step to take. And suddenly, the joy is back. I’m excited and nervous and happy and looking forward to this adventure. I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off but I know I will. In the words of Walt, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”.

And just like that, I’m back in the game. Here we go!

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My open letter to Self magazine

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We’ve all heard it before: “Don’t ever assume something. You know what happens”. Well, I did assume something. And the old adage rang true.

I assumed that a “magazine for women that specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, beauty and happiness” would be a magazine with a positive message and positive intent.

I assumed that Self would respect the fact that athletes are a diverse group with diverse interests and talents.

I assumed that if Self asked the founders of Glam Runners to send a picture of themselves wearing their running tutus that the picture would be promoted in a positive way. Not that Self would use their picture in a snarky, blistering “trend” piece telling their readers how “lame” it is to wear a tutu.

I assumed that Self would realize how absolutely inspiring it was to see a picture of two strong, beautiful runners out there running a race in their superhero costumes. Especially since one of those runners was in the midst of chemotherapy treatments battling brain cancer during the race when that picture was taken.

I assumed that there was still integrity in the publishing world.

Yep, I assumed. I made an ass out of myself. But on the bright side, that’s nothing compared to what an ass you’ve made of yourself. You publicly ridiculed a woman battling brain cancer while she was out racing through her pain. You mocked two women who are board members of Girls on the Run and who use proceeds from their tutu business to raise funds for the council.

You alienated a large sector of new runners who get started on this fantastic journey by signing up for a race with their girlfriends and buying matching tutus and lacing up their sneakers for the first time. My inspiration to start running was the Disney Princess Half Marathon. It was the one and only time I wore a tutu. But it got me out the door and started on this path to health and happiness. I’m grateful for that.

I find it sad that instead of focusing on empowering women on their journey to better fitness, you waste pages of your magazine with this drivel. And intentionally cause hurt to two women who embody everything you do not: grace, strength, and inspiration.

I appreciate that you want to instruct us on what is “lame” and what is “legit” in your monthly column. But you’ve got it backwards: the women’s running community is legit, tutus and all. Self magazine, on the other hand? Lame. Terribly lame.

Might be time to find another tutu for my next race. Because runners are a family and I’ll be damned if I stand by quietly while you insult mine.

You’re better than this. I really hope you realize that eventually.

Sincerely,
A tutu-wearing marathoner with a chip on her shoulder

Buzz

Glam Runner Facebook page

My 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Recap

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It almost didn’t happen.

After a combined total of 9 hours sleep over the last 3 days, I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep. So when my alarm clock went off at 2:30 I didn’t hear it. I slept on and on until my mom happened to hear it and woke me up. She literally saved the day. I flew out of bed, got my clothes on and made the trek across the parking lot to the bus stop. There was already a bus there and one pulling up right behind it. I climbed on, sat down… and waited. And waited. This bus driver decided we weren’t leaving until we had a full bus. I started to get nervous as I’d heard horror stories about how traffic starts getting ridiculous and late buses sometimes barely make it to the start in time. My stomach was in knots when I heard a voice asking if the seat next to me was open. I glanced up and did a double take. It was Derek, a friend from my running club. Small, small world. He sat down, as calm and friendly as ever and it was my first sign that all would be well.

The bus deposited us in the parking lot of Epcot and I headed over for the meet-up spot for our PbRC meet-up. After our group photo I found myself enveloped with exactly what I needed: hugs. Lindsey, Jane, Tony, Pete, Mike, Lisa, Robyn… people who had believed in me and helped get me to the starting line. It was so surreal to be standing there with them at the culmination of this crazy adventure of mine and the only thing that kept me grounded was being surrounded by my running family.
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I went into the Race Retreat which I had access to as part of my Runner’s World Challenge package (a separate post on that later). I grabbed a bagel and some water and forced myself to eat. My stomach wanted to rebel. My nerves were off the charts. I couldn’t really converse with anyone, I just needed to stay calm. Suddenly it was time for the private walk out to the starting corrals that RWC participants had and I was walking out of the tent. It occurred to me that I had completely missed my chance to enjoy the private restrooms. Whoops.

Instead of the long, crowded trek everyone else took to get to the corrals we took a shortcut through the front route. It was truly special to walk past the throngs of fans lined up along the route who cheered as we walked by. To walk past the news crews set up with their vans and equipment. To walk past the start line and the elite runners stretching in solitary silence. After a brief pep talk and final instructions from the Runners World folks, we were on our own. I headed to corral K to get ready and go.

It’s hard to explain what I felt as I sat in the corral waiting. Excitement, fear, hope, elation… it was such a mix of emotions. I found a spot by myself (or as much as I could in a throng of people) and just sat there with my thoughts. Before I knew it the Star Spangled Banner was played, the fireworks went off and we were off. With the new corral structure there was a quick turnaround time between each corral and K’s turn came quickly. I crossed the start line with the music of “Planes” playing and it made me think of my son and how I needed to show him that we’re all capable of pushing our boundaries and going after our dreams. It was the perfect way to start.

My game plan for the race was to run conservatively. I was absolutely exhausted from spending the last 3 nights up with my son who had been battling his asthma. My 9 hours of sleep in 72 hours combined with the 10k on Friday and Disney craziness meant I was not operating anywhere near 100%. I knew I had about a 25 minute head start from the sweepers. So I told myself I just needed to average a 17 minute mile. I decided to try to do the first half around a 16mm and then use the extra cushion to get me to the end. It worked. My first two splits were 16:00 on the nose – I’m generally pretty good at knowing my pace but couldn’t believe I nailed it that close!

The first few miles took us outside of Epcot and up World Drive towards Magic Kingdom. It was crowded but not so crowded that I couldn’t keep to my intervals. In my spirit of conservatism, I started running 30 seconds and walking 40. I plugged into my music and just let the miles go by, watching runners around me and enjoying the costumes and craziness.
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Before I knew it we were running through the Ticket & Transportation Center and finally making the turn into Magic Kingdom. This was my 3rd time running up Main Street towards Cinderella Castle but I have to say I could run it a 100 times and I don’t think it would ever cease to be a special, amazing experience. Crowds are lined up cheering you on and music is playing… it’s just magic.

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I refrained from making stops as it was still early in the race and I wanted to play it safe. I again regretted not using the bathrooms before the race because the bottle of powerade I’d downed that morning was making me more than a little uncomfortable. On the course, the lines for porta potties and bathrooms were too long to allow me to stop. Still, I just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

After running through the castle I headed downhill to the best scenery I would see all day: my mom standing there cheering for me. It was heaven to see her face out there, a source of comfort during a scary time. I stopped and got a hug and grabbed a picture then headed on my way.
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We ran past Frontierland and all too soon we were out of the park. Immediately after exiting I noticed all of the boats for Splash Mountain were parked out there on the backlot (the ride was closed for renovations). I looked past the boats and saw the second best thing I would see all day: two lone porta potties half hidden behind the boats that were set up for the construction workers. HALLELUJAH!!! I ran over and sure enough, they were unlocked and empty. Score!

We then headed past Shades of Green, The Grand Floridian, and Polynesian Resort. It was crowded but still doable. I was starting to feel a little more confident and when I saw the reindeer with no line, I couldn’t resist a quick picture. Some things never change!
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After that we ran onto the Richard Petty Speedway and did a lap around the track. Very cool! A lot of classic car clubs were there and they had there cars out on display and were cheering us on. I had to take a Lightning McQueen picture for my little guy.
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From here, the course got a little tedious. We ran down an access road with not a lot of scenery and virtually no entertainment or characters. We also ran by a waste facility that smelled pretty horrendous. I took the time to take stock of how I was doing: got my nutrition in, took some endurolytes and Energybits and looked at my phone to check the stats of my friends that were running. Finally we were in Animal Kingdom and past mile 13. Halfway there! I was feeling tired but steady. As I ran past Expedition Everest I saw several runners break off to go ride it real quick. I wish I had the speed to do it, but that’s a privilege I’ll earn later after I get fast enough. I found Mel, a buddy from my running club, outside of AK and a quick hug from him was medicine for my soul.
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And then we hit the part of the course I had been dreading all along. It didn’t disappoint. We ran down the highway towards ESPN Wide World of Sports. By this time it’s hot and the sun is high in the sky. It’s endless road in front of you. And on the other side of the highway you see runners that have already passed through WWOS and are heading down the home stretch. It definitely played with my mind. WWOS is a winding, never-ending section of the course. Because of all the turns and curves and change of terrain you have to stay alert. My body really started hurting during this part of it. One curve brought me a lot of joy, though. Jack Eaddy, an old college friend of mine, was there with his Oak Ridge High School band cheering us on. Seeing a familiar face from my FSU days, some of the happiest times of my life, was a godsend. After gifting him with a disgustingly sweaty hug (sorry Jack!), I headed back on my way, revitalized for the moment.

My splits were up to 16:40 by the time I hit mile 20 and I was ok with this. Physcial and mental exhaustion were setting in. I knew I couldn’t do much about the physical part but I also knew I did have some control over the mental side of things. I reminded myself I was strong. I reminded myself I wasn’t a quitter. I reminded myself that this was worth it. I reminded myself that I was worth it. I checked my phone again and I had a message from my coach, Mike, telling me I was going to do it and he was proud of me. Those words were so desperately needed and helpful. Suddenly I was running through Hollywood Studios and I knew I was getting close. The last sweeper point is at mile 23, just outside of HS. All along, I ran the race as if it were a 23 mile marathon. I knew if I could just make it to 23 without getting swept, I would walk or crawl or whatever it took to get to the finish line if need be. It’s funny because at the beginning of the race I broke things down in increments of 13 miles. After 13 miles, I broke it into 5 miles, then 1 mile… eventually I would just focus on an object I could see ahead and make myself keep going towards it. It was literally taking one step at a time.
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And then I was there. I turned out of the HS parking lot, past the “parade buses” standing by waiting to kill someone’s dream and onto the path towards Epcot and the finish line. And I became overwhelmed. I slowed to a walk and wept. And wept. I tried to stop because I was afraid somebody would pull me off the course fearing I was injured. But the feeling in my heart was overwhelming. I texted my mom one word: SAFE. I wanted her to know I would make it. From there to the finish, my memories are hazy. It’s probably a good indication that I wasn’t in a really good state at that point. I just remember Stacey jumping out and hugging me near Morocco and how happy it made me. I remember the way even a gradual incline felt like climbing a mountain. I remember seeing Lindsey and Erica waiting near the end for me and realizing after I’d passed them that I should’ve stopped and thanked them for waiting. I remember vague disappointment that the gospel choir wasn’t there. I remember seeing my mom in the bleachers and waiving. But I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t even process what was going on. I wasn’t feeling any emotion (which y’all know is weird for me!) I just crossed the finish line. And it was done. I was a marathoner. My abysmal finish time was 7:28:05. But it was a finish. I made it. It was a dream come true.
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The good:
This whole experience really taught me two things. First, it taught me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and do the work that’s required of you. Second, it taught me that I am beyond blessed by the family and friends I have in my life. It truly took a village to get me through this race. My mom cheering me on, my friends on the course giving words of encouragement and the countless friends and family cheering me on from afar. I was absolutely shocked and humbled by the support I received. It honestly meant as much to me as that medal around my neck. Still does.

The bad:
Obviously, the time wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I was aiming for somewhere around 7:00-7:15. But there were some factors beyond my control that didn’t help and it gives me something to aim for in the future.
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The funny:
Well, I choose to think of it as funny. I got passed by a man playing a sousaphone, a barefoot dude wearing a pink tutu, Luke Skywalker carrying Yoda on his back, a guy dressed as a candlestick and a firefighter in full bunker gear among others. It was definitely entertaining and a little mortifying!
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The closing thoughts:
At the end of this chapter of my journey I have a lot of emotions. Happiness at accomplishing my goal. Wistfulness that I didn’t have the time to do some of the fun things other people did on the course. Embarrassment that I didn’t run faster. But overwhelmingly, the feeling I keep coming back to is gratitude. A little over 3 years ago I was crippled by postpartum depression and the loss of my Casey. The future was bleak and I was worried at what kind of mom I could possibly be to my Gavin. But here I am. Healthy and happy. Seeking out my dreams. And making sure that I am strong, mentally and physically, for my son as well as myself. I look back and wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t put on my sneakers that one fateful day and huffed and puffed to the end of the street. Thank you, God, for 26.2 miles and for all the blessings that have come along with it. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
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Fear and Trust

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Today was a big day of celebration within my little running community. Most of us ran our very last long mileage training run this weekend. That means it’s finally taper time! For the next 3 weeks we ease back on the mileage, rest and recover for marathon weekend. Sounds great, right?

In a lot of ways, it is. While I’ve always respected the marathon distance the one thing that has surprised me is how all-encompassing marathon training is. Free time becomes scarce. Luxuries like sleep, grocery shopping and spending time with your family are rare. It’s been particularly hard during the Christmas season with so much else going on. Tapering is going to be a welcome respite, physically.

But mentally? I’m not looking forward to these next 3 weeks at all. 3 weeks to think. To wonder. To worry. When you’re a back-of-the-packer like myself, finishing isn’t guaranteed. January 12th is going to be a battle for me. I’m going to fight, mile after mile, to get to that finish line. There’s a lot that could go wrong. I could be swept. It would be devastating. I think the other thing that I struggle with is that I’ve dedicated myself to this 100%. I’ve done the training and logged the miles. Meanwhile, there are many that have completely slacked on training but will finish with no problems. I know, I know… I can only worry about myself. But sometimes it’s a particularly hard pill to swallow.

I know this: I’ve spent 35 years of my life believing that I could never do this. I’ve worked my ass off to prove otherwise. I’m surrounded by amazing people that will be pushing me along mentally, physically and emotionally. I’ve put in the time, the effort.

I need to trust the training. I fear the outcome. It’s going to be a long 3 weeks.

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One and Done

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I have nothing witty, inspiring or entertaining to share tonight.

Because I’m tired. Bone tired. I think I’m starting to reach my limit. I had great plans to get up early and enjoy some Black Friday shopping tomorrow but I can’t do it. My body and mind are craving sleep. I need a break.

I’ve respected this marathon dream of mine all along. I’ve committed to it 110%. I knew it would be tough. But I didn’t realize how all-consuming it would be. My life revolves around training. I miss time with my family. I miss sleeping. I miss having a life.

Will it all be worthwhile? I have to believe so. I have to believe in my dream. I have to believe in me.

But come January 12? If I can finish and get that medal put around my neck? I’ll bid the world of marathons adieu. Half marathons? Nope, I anticipate them being a part of my life for a long time.

But this? One and done.