All posts by Colin

#167 – Gasparilla Half Marathon

Last February, something possessed me to drive to Tampa for a long weekend, and run the Gasparilla Distance Classic, taking on the Lime Challenge (15k on Saturday, and 8k on Sunday).  I have no idea why I did that, but I had a tough weekend, with big blisters coming up during the 15k, causing me to hobble my way through the 8k.

Despite the painful feet, I had so much fun that I signed up again for the 2017 Lime Challenge as soon as registration opened.  I’ve had this on my calendar for months.

And then I ran the Mississippi River Half Marathon, and a lightbulb went off… if I could change my registration for Gasparilla to the half, I could qualify for the Half Fanatics by completing two half marathons in sixteen days.

Most years I’ve run, I’ve set some kind of goal.  In 2014, it was to run a race a month.  2015 saw me run my first half marathon, and in 2016, I competed in my first triathlon.  This year, I wanted to become part of the Half Fanatics.  To do that, I needed to complete either three half marathons in ninety days, or two in sixteen days.  Converting my Gasparilla registration would hit that target.

After a week of frantic communication right before the registration cutoff, I finally got the nod for the modified registration, and I was set!

The Road to Tampa

I set out from Da Lou bright and early on Thursday, planning to get to Dothan AL before the day was done.  That’d leave a shortish drive on Friday, and give me plenty of time to get settled in once I got to Tampa.

I decided to take a different route this year, avoiding Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, and traveling kinda diagonal across west Tennessee and northern Mississippi, before hanging a big right, going south through Alabama.

I passed through farm lands, and crossed the very river I’d run across just two weeks ago.  The clouds and fog hung in all morning, keeping the temperatures cooler, which was fine by me.

Along the Rockabilly Highway, I stopped for some gas in Henderson TN.  I got out of the rental car, and noticed a note on the pump, indicating that the card reader wasn’t working.  I walked inside, and waited for the clerk to show up.  Once she did, I asked what she needed in order to turn on the pump.  That’s when it got weird.

She asked if I was filling up, and of course, I said “yes”.  Then she asked me how much I thought it would take to fill it up.  Eh?  I had no idea.  It’s a rental car!  She told me that it was only that pump that had a problem, so I figured I’d just move to another one.  And then the wisdom came.  She began to tell me how much safer it was to pay inside the store, because there were so many folks out there putting skimmers on the pumps.

I thanked her, told her I’d move to another pump, and then went about filling up.  If my card gets nabbed, I have a pretty good idea where it might’ve happened!  🙂

The rest of the drive to Dothan was pretty uneventful, making for a long, twelve-hour day, full of Sirius XM glory, and my torturing the animals I passed by with my singing.

I saw signs for lodging as I was pulling into Dothan, and picked the Best Western from the lot.  Basically, I just needed somewhere to lay my head for the night.  I got checked in, and frankly, it was an old, tired motel, with a bed that was a little uncomfortable, doors that didn’t shut well, but an air conditioner that rocked.

Upon getting checked into my hotel for the night, it was time to find some dinner.  I’d read about a place in Dothan called Rock N Roll Sushi, and wanted to give it a try.  They had some very unusual rolls on their menu, and I knew that’s what I needed for dinner.  I hit their website, and put my iPhone in control, guiding me to some grub.

Except that the address on their website was wrong.

I ended up in a really grungy part of town — I knew that because one house had “No Trespassing” spray painted across a front door and jamb — and couldn’t find the restaurant.  I called, and they told me I was all the way across town from them.  After some directions, I headed back across town, and finally found it.

And while the restaurant wasn’t amazing to look at, the food was stunning!  I had smoked salmon nigiri and tobbiko nigiri, along with a couple of rolls.  Knowing that I needed lobster to survive, I started with the ZZ Top roll, which had tempura lobster inside, crabmeat atop, along with crunchy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce.  It was huge, and was, by far, the best thing I ordered.  I also had the Velcro Pygmies Roll.  This smaller roll had spicy tuna, avocado, crunch flakes and topped with Pop Rocks… yes, real candy Pop Rocks atop!  The sweet from the Pop Rocks countered the wasabi and soy really well, and the slight popping in my mouth was just plain fun.  The food was awesome, and was definitely different from any sushi place I’d ever visited.

By driving as far as Dothan on Thursday, I set myself up for a relatively short drive into Tampa on Friday.  I grabbed a little OJ and a pastry before heading out, and hit the road at sunrise.  Along the way, I found a Lowe’s that was open, and ran in for some duct tape (more on that later!) before heading south to Florida.

Highway 231 out of Dothan is apparently a big run down toward Panama City.  And with it being a pathway to Florida, there was a rest area just beyond the Florida state line.  The welcome centers in Florida are renown for serving up fresh OJ as a little treat for entering the state.  Unfortunately, since this one was a little off the beaten path, it would be closed for another hour, and I missed my chance for a little slurp of nectar from the Sunshine State.

By now, I was starting to think about my endgame for Tampa — where to stop for lunch, and when to stop for fuel so I wouldn’t have to worry about that first off on Monday as I began my return to the Midwest.  I finally landed in Gainesville, mostly driven by an advertisement for Krystal’s.  If you’ve read my race reports before, you know that I’ll go out of my way to go to Krystal or Runza.  I stopped in, and sat down for a quick lunch, before heading across the street for some gas.  After filling up, I picked up some Gatorade (I’d also forgotten that at home, still chilling in the fridge), and resumed my southerly charge.

Along the way, I’d noticed some differences in how the Apple Maps app and my Garmin were leading me.  Most of it was semantics.  The Garmin was intent on ensuring I didn’t accidentally take an exit I shouldn’t, while my iPhone showed me what I would eventually be doing as my next maneuver.  The thing that made the Garmin stand out, however, was that it showed me which lane I needed to be in for my entrance into Tampa.  I kept ’em both on as I hit the city, and felt like I had consensus on everything I was doing.  🙂

This year, I stayed in the Hilton Downtown, which is on the other side of the Convention Center from where I stayed last year.  I didn’t have to fight any of the crazy traffic at the Convention Center, and pulled right up to the Hilton.  I dropped off the car with the valet, and headed in to check in.  I knew I was early (about 2pm), and hoped for best.  If you remember, last year, there were many of us who waited several hours for our rooms to be available, with me finally getting mine at 4pm after a lot of squawking.  The Hilton, however, had a room immediately available, and after thanking me profusely for our repeated business, I was heading upstairs to my room.

And it was a nice room.  Big, comfy king bed, a couch, a real desk, and all the power outlets you could possible want.  That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.

I walked down to pick up my packet at the Convention Center.  I got turned around a little (of course!), and it turned into a little longer walk than I’d expected, and by the time I’d trodden into the Center from the 90° heat, I was sweaty and stinky.  Like last year, the organizers had done a great job to ensure there weren’t long lines to pick up your bib and shirt.  I was a little fearful that there could be some drama around my bib and shirt, since I was a late conversion to the half.  But my bib was there (without my name printed on it — not a surprise, given the timing), and awaiting me was a “good ol’ boy” sized race shirt for the half.  Woot!

I wandered around the expo, looking for anything cool and interesting, and frankly, I didn’t really see anything much that I hadn’t seen before.  Of course, there were a lot of races being promoted from this region, along with local organizations and companies, none of which were things that would be helpful for me.

And then I ran across the folks from Krave Jerky.  I’ve really started enjoying having jerky in the car for these road trips, and on a lark, I tried some Jack Link’s Tender Bites for the Mississippi River half two weeks ago.  It was awesome on the course, sat well with me, and I really felt like I got a boost out of it.  I get pretty bored with the sweet treats like Sports Beans, and other chewy sweet things.  They’re nice, but I just can’t make a race of them.  The guys from Krave seem to have figured that out too, and had samples there to try.  I really liked the flavors and tenderness, and think I’ll need to get some in the house for future runs (never try anything new on race day!).

As I was leaving the Expo, there was a creepy little guy hauling a backpack half his size, asking folks if they had bibs that weren’t gonna be used.  I’ve never encountered that before.  For every race I’ve ever seen, having someone else run with your bib would get you blacklisted from running in that race again.  And I can’t imagine what this guy’s deal was.  Maybe he was too late to get registered.  Maybe there’s a market for those just before race day (like scalped tickets for a concert).  Regardless, it was slimy, and I just walked on by.

I walked back to the hotel, and called it night, staying in, watching TV, and just relaxing, knowing that in about 36 hours, I’d be taking on  my next real test, and hopefully sealing the deal for my joining Half Fanatics.


With the change in my race plans, Saturday was a down day for me, and a chance to just relax before my big run.

Last year, after the 15k, I met some friends –Shauna and Clyde — for a late lunch.  They relocated from STL to Tampa a few years ago, and Gasparilla is a great chance to catch up with them.  I’d made the same plan with them for Saturday on this trip, and once again, we went to the Columbia Restaurant.  This place is legendary, and has been around for over a century, sporting amazing Cuban-inspired food.

These guys make great sangria table side, so Shauna and I decided to  split a pitcher… neither of us was driving, and I needed hydration for Sunday’s race.  🙂  Continuing my lobster theme from October’s cruise, I ordered Croquetas de Langosta, which was absolutely amazing, and light enough not to weigh me down to the point where I couldn’t have desert.  And since I was in Florida, that meant key lime pie, and Cafe con Leche to top things off.  With all that goodness, and a couple of hours of great conversation, I was able to take my mind off the upcoming race, and simply relax.

The Race

The half marathon started at 6am, and I knew I had to walk about four blocks, and build-in time for finding the tail end of line.  I woke up ahead of the alarm after a fitful night of sleep, and started getting ready.  Socks and braces and compression sleeves and bib… I felt like a gladiator getting ready for competition.

And, truthfully, it’s probably not that far off!

6500 of My Best Friends
6500 of My Best Friends

I walked down to the start line, and found that it was already very crowded.  I think there were to be about 6500+ folks running the half, and every single one of them appeared to be milling around in front of me.  I found a couple of guys that were also turtles like me, and we chit-chatted for a bit, which helped keeper my nerves down.  Really quickly, the time came for the National Anthem.

Now, many races this size have someone actually perform the anthem, but in this case, it was a recording.  However, the sound folks couldn’t quite get the sound system switched from the “pump you up” music to the Anthem, so after a few attempts to announce the Anthem, the DJ gave up… and then suddenly, the last three or four lines of the Anthem came through.  Yeah, that was kinda messed up.  🙂

And then we were off!

The race course first wound through the neighborhoods on Davis Island.  Even at that early pre-dawn hour, there were folks on the sidewalks cheering us on.  I really love races where the neighborhoods are engaged and rooting the runners along!

And since the route on the island was a loop, I got to pass by a fire juggler twice.  That was crazy awesome, and worth watching for a little bit.  If I had any kind of skills, I’d be out there doing something like that for these long races.  Maybe I should learn to play my ukulele while I’m running.  🙂

Finishing the island course meant that almost five miles were behind me as the sun was starting to rise.  With the nice breeze from the bay, this was feeling like it was gonna be a great day.

The rest of the race was along Bayshore Boulevard — the same course as the 8k and 15k I ran last year.  This is a beautiful route, with the bay on one side, and wonderful deco-inspired homes on the other.  I really like the look and feel of this neighborhood… and the sea breeze off the bay!

The first several miles along Bayshore went along pretty well, but I could tell I was starting to weaken, feeling some soreness in my hips and feeling my crazy left-foot blister starting to rear it’s head.  I’d duct taped it, trying to keep friction to a minimum, but as I’d find out later at the hotel, my tape tore, and started floating around in my sock.

Another Slow High-Speed Chase!
Another Slow High-Speed Chase!

The turnaround was about 15km in, and by then, I knew I was in trouble.  I was walking slowly — but methodically! — up Bayshore, and that’s when the last of the pack finally passed me.  I was officially the back of the pack, and had a police escort for the next couple of miles.

Behind the half marathon, an 8k was slated to go, and the course organizers helped ensure I was out of their way as they kicked off.  The elite runners began passing me about ten or eleven miles in, with the competitive runners not far behind.

But here’s the cool thing.  Even with all these speedy folks passing me by, many of them patted me on the shoulder as they went by, encouraging me to continue on.  I’m sure they realized that I was out there as the last of the half marathoners, and was trudging forward by sheer force of will.  I’ll never forget all those kind words as I worked slowly toward the finish line.

With about a half kilometer to go, there were three ladies at the end of an entrance ramp cheering folks on.  They’d finished the half, and when they saw me, and recognized that I had a half marathon bib on, asked me if I’d like them to make me a mimosa.  I’d been on the course for over four hours by this time, and that sounded like the best idea I’d ever heard.  They reached into a cooler, began mixing, and I started drinking the best drink I think I’ve ever had.  We toasted my impending finish line appearance, and they congratulated me on my determination.  They were angels in disguise, and after a few minutes, I got my feet under me, said my goodbyes, and was on my way again.


Only a few minutes later, I crossed the finish line, and wandered toward the folks handing out medals.  Just like in Mississippi two weeks earlier, someone tried to hand me the wrong medal (an 8k medal, in this case), and I explained as best I could that I was the last of the half marathoners to finish.  They walked to the medal racks, grabbed a medal, and hung it around me.  I was thrilled.


I continued through the finishers’ chute, grabbing only a water.  I knew I was done, and needed to be heading back to the hotel to relax my poor feet.  I had my photo taken with a pirate lass, and at the apex of the footbridge, I leaned my head against the top of the handrail, saying some small thanks, and becoming very overwhelmed at what I’d just accomplished.

Not only had I completed my second marathon in two weeks, but I’d qualified for Half Fanatics.

In pain, limping from my blistered left foot and painful hips, I walked the few blocks back to the Hilton, reveling in this personal victory.  Back in my room, I fell across my bed, and slept for a couple of hours, finally showering, and finding some food.  I was done for the night, and just sat back, letting my body complain and recharge.

Back to the Midwest!

Just like a race day, the night before a long drive isn’t usually my best sleep.  I woke up before my alarm, got into my driving duds, and headed downstairs to checkout.  The Hilton had been good to me, but it was time to head home.

I checked out around 5am, and started my drive northward, knowing that I wouldn’t be home for two days.  Frankly, the drive on Monday was pretty uneventful.  I put about two-thirds of the miles to Da Lou behind me, and settled in to a hotel in Tupelo for the night.

The King and I
The King and I

And once again, it was a fitful sleep.  This time, however, my sleeplessness was not of my own making.  About 3am, the heavens opened up, and a small thunderstorm cell rocked and rolled across Tupelo, awakening me.  It wasn’t too long until my alarm was gonna go off, so I decided to pack up everything, and get checked out of the hotel, putting myself on the road for the last push for home.

I kept Darla apprised of where I was, and just kept pushing north.  I was counting down the minutes and miles, playing all the crazy distance/times games that I do when I run, inching ever-closer to being home.

Just before lunch, I pulled into the driveway, and saw a banner on the front porch:

I'm a Half Fanatic!
I’m a Half Fanatic!

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.  I’d never expected any kind of recognition like that for these silly little adventures of mine over the last five years.  To have someone recognize completion of this crazy goal was incredibly humbling.


I’ve recovered pretty quickly from this race, as compared to the Mississippi River Half two weeks ago.  I still have my blister, and I definitely have enhanced the likelihood that I’m gonna lose a toenail that began blackening from that first race.  My body has recovered nicely though, with very little residual pain, and that’s something I’m very thankful for.

I reached out to the Half Fanatics after I got home, and am officially a member now, #15914.  I couldn’t be happier about adopting that number!

There’s been a lot of congrats from folks at work and Facebook.  Many of them knew I was striving for this in 2017, and I’m of the opinion that it takes a community to run a half marathon.  Whether they’re close by family or friends, friends from the internet, passers-by in a race who cheered me on, or angels with a cooler on a street corner who can tell when a man needs a drink… they all have their place, and make up part of the story of me achieving a pretty dang significant goal, and proving, despite having had a third of my colon removed five years ago, that I’ve got a lot of guts.  🙂

This race benefits a boatload of charities.  In 2016, this race gave $360,902 to dozens of charities.   You can read more about those donations here.  

Race Course

Wisdom From the Race Course

It seems like I learn something from every race, and sometimes, I’m surprised at just how many things I bump into that are either new, or forgotten revelations.  Here’s few from this past weekend’s race.

Instrumental Music

Instrumental pieces, no matter how peppy, just don’t cut it.  I have a curated running playlist I’ve been working on for months, and made a lot of assumptions about what I’d like to hear on the run.  There were times I was so, so, so wrong.  It didn’t seem to matter how wonderful the track, they were skipped when they cropped up randomly during the race.  The only one that stuck was “Drum Dreams” by ELO.  It has a crazy drum beat, and it’s hard not to be driven by that.

Sing-A-Long Music

So why don’t peppy instrumentals cut it?  Because I wanna sing when I’m running!  Now, “sing” is relative.  Caterwauling is likely a better description, but only for those parts of the race where my inner voice can get past the huffing and puffing of my breathing.  When I topped the bridge, “I Melt With You” hit the top of playlist, and I’m absolutely convinced that I sounded like some maimed animal as I tried to sing and dance along, while trying to maintain forward momentum, keep appropriate hand-to-beat coordination, and avoid breaking an ankle in the expansion joints!

My Running Plans

Don’t ask about ’em until at least three days after the race.  During the race, I know I can recite what my next races are.  But secretly, I’m cutting deals with myself like a sinner on judgement day about which future races I’m not gonna run, because the current race is so tough!

Beef Jerky Rules!

I’m a jerky junky, but this race was the first time I carried something savory with me.  I’m all about the Sport Beans, but I decided to carry a little something different, and had a sack of Jack Link’s Tender Bites in my pocket.  I liked those because they were easy to deal with — they’re already in a resealable bag, they’re easy to chew, and I loved the flavor.  I think there’s some experimenting to come on this!


Normally, I’m a water-only guy.  MRM had water stops every mile, and since I was carrying water with me, I had small cups of Gatorade at every stop.  That worked out extraordinarily well!  When I did the Route 66 Half in Nov ’15, I noticed that Gatorade went down pretty well, so I think I’m gonna have to incorporate that into my race day regimen.  Outside the race, I tried Gatorade’s Frost Glacier Cherry, and liked it pretty well.  I suspect that’ll make an appearance on my long race days.

Old Guys Rest!

When I did my triathlon in May last year, one of the things I did during the swimming leg (my weakest component) was to flip over on my back, and just float, resting for a few minutes.  Apparently, that was also the exact method to get the race support folks as excitable as they could be, thinking that I had some sort of problem.  Running MRM on Saturday, I encountered the same phenomenon.  And no, I wasn’t lying on my back on the race course!  🙂  I was, however, sitting on culverts and leaning against walls, while trying to summon my inner “me” to get through the last couple of miles of the race.  Much like my tri, this is apparently the “cry for help” in a half marathon.  I fended off a BUNCHA folks, telling ’em I was fine, and just resting, which is exactly what I was doing.  It was sure nice to have strangers watching out for me though!

The “C” Word

When folks talk with me about running, the conversation invariably comes around to “what started your running journey?”  And the answer to that question always starts with my journey with colon cancer.  I never mind talking about what happened to me five years ago, and I’ll answer any question about it, no matter how much TMI your might ordinarily think was involved.  It’s hard to know if what I tell folks helps them be more comfortable with talking about cancer — especially colon cancer! — or changes their attitude about early detection, but I hope it does.  If you ask me about running, you’re liable to hear about my cancer journey … You’ve been warned!!!!  🙂

#166 – Mississippi River Half Marathon

Said Dr. Peabody to his boy, Sherman, “Set the way-back machine to November 2015, for that’s when this tale begins!”

I ran my first half marathon in November 2015 at the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa.  This was monumental in so many ways for me, and something I’ll never forgot.  You can read about that race here.  As part of the expo, I ran across the table for the Mississippi River Half Marathon.  After talking with the folks there, I dropped my name in the proverbial hat for a chance to win a free entry to their race, and didn’t think about it again.

Not until a week or so later, when I heard from the race folks, letting me know I’d won that free entry!  I talked with the director for a while, hearing about this great, flat race, all the while getting my excitement up for this event.  However, it was very close to Gasparilla, which I’d had teed up for a while.  They let me defer to 2017, so done and done.

Now, we return to the present…

I’d been sweating this race all winter.  I knew I wasn’t getting the training miles that I should’ve — ice, winter, and injuries all got in the way.  I kept telling myself that I could do this anyway.  I mean, I didn’t train that hard for my first half, and I got through that one, right?

But, this was gonna be my fourth attempt at my second half marathon.  I had blisters in Chattanooga in March.  I had a leg that was incredibly messed up in Tulsa in November.  And December found me taking care of Becky and her eye, keeping me away from Springfield.

So this race was a long time coming, with a lot of self-inflicted pressure.  And the closer the day came to leave for the race, the more nervous I got.  Even up to the day before the race, I was still doubting if I could really get through it.  I figured that I could just muscle through it though.  After all, I’d done this before, right?  (Sense a theme yet?)

I drove to Greenville MS on Friday.  When I left STL, it was 28°, and by the time I hit the bootheel, it was in the 40s, with tremendous winds.  There were times that the dust blown up from the barren fields made “brown out” conditions where I couldn’t see thirty feet in front of the Jeep.  And with those winds, my mileage plummeted to about 12.5mpg.  That was impressive.

I rolled into Greenville around 5pm, got checked into the hotel, and went to pick up my race packet at the local mall.  I think that’s the first time I’ve picked up my packet at a mall, but it worked out well, and being a small race, went pretty quickly.

I laid out Flat Colin, making sure I had everything planned and together for the race.  I went through my race strategy, trying to plan for what was to come on Saturday.  I’d been visualizing my race plan for a week, putting myself in the best place I could be for my race.  All I had to do Saturday morning was get dressed, and get to the start line.

Well, technically, it was the finish line first.  This race is a point to point race, with all the runners bussing to their starting points.  We were to be carried 13.2 miles from the finish line, with the full marathon folks going 13.2 miles even farther out.  The cool thing is that that meant that there would likely be folks on the course while I was finishing.  I chit-chatted with a bunch of folks as we awaited the busses to begin boarding.  The doors opened, and we started loading up.

Runners on the Bus
Runners on the Bus

This was the first time I’d been on a school bus in a very long time, and I was suddenly struck by the size of things on the bus.  It was obviously designed with smaller persons in mind, and folding all of us runners into these little seats was pretty comical.  And then the doors closed.

No more comical notions about long legs in little seats.  It suddenly got very, very real.

Runners on Deck!
Runners on Deck!

We were dropped off at a little steak house just across the border in Arkansas, milling around for just about an hour awaiting time for the race to start.  The race folks announced a ten minute warning, and asked us to start collecting up on the bridge deck.  I really thought we’d be running across the whole bridge span, but we ended up starting about a quarter way across, which meant that the first part of the race wasn’t entirely uphill.  🙂

Lynn and I
Lynn and I

While I stood on the bridge deck, awaiting the start, someone walked up to me, and said hello.  It was Lynn Nelson, who was on the bloggers panel with me at Route 66 in November.  I was stunned to find someone I knew at this race!  We chatted like old friends, and that really helped cut the pre-race jitters for me.

We all stood, sang The Star Spangled Banner, and just like that — we were underway.

Sun on the Mississippi
Sun on the Mississippi

The thing that struck me right away was how long that bridge over the Mississippi River was… and how beautiful the land so very far below was.  The sun was poking through the heavy clouds every now and then, lighting up parts of the river as I crossed the bridge.  And as I expected, inside fifteen minutes, I’d lost the pack, and was left to my thoughts.

That's a lot of cable!
That’s a lot of cable!

The Greenville Bridge is pretty impressive, and is billed as the longest cable-stayed bridge span on the Mississippi River.  I couldn’t say if that’s true, but it’s very cool to run across.  The only thing that was weird for me was ensuring I didn’t step wrong on the expansion joints.  They were huge, and looked like you could break an ankle by stepping on them wrong.

Hot pursuit!
Hot pursuit!

Having lost the pack, I was the very last person running the half.  As a result of that, and running on a pretty significant highway, I had an escort.  🙂  That’s one thing I noted throughout the race — the support from the LEO community was amazing!  I never felt unsafe crossing any intersection, and I made sure I thanked every one of ’em.  They kept all of us safe, and I loved being the target of the world’s slowest high-speed pursuit!

I chugged through the first quarter (5k), and had a time pretty comparable to the first quarter of Route 66 — within a minute.  I felt like I was on track for another long day, but a successful one.  I even posted some Facebook Live material from the race course.

I continued on up Highway 82, with a nice tailwind, and kinda thought my times would be benefitting from the little extra push.  However, at the halfway point, I was seven minutes behind my time from Tulsa, and was starting to feel a blister form on the bottom of my left foot.  I’ve been there before (remember Gasparilla last year?), and that could’ve set me up for some real misery.  As it ends up, that blister was the least of my worries.

Halfway was kinda a big point in this race.  I put another (and my last) Facebook Live video up.  The first of the marathoners passed me — remember, he was at the 19 mile point in his race, while I was sitting at six miles in mine.  He was flying!  And it was around halfway that I met Liz, Brenden, and Ashley.

These kids were probably half my age, and were walking at the same pace I was, plus or minus.  Oh, and Liz was 30-weeks pregnant.  🙂  We’d been passing each other for much of the first half, and then hooked up as we reached the end of the highway part of the race.  We talked for miles, stopping at some of the neighborhood rest stops, picking up doughnuts, citrus and other goodies.  Eventually, they got ahead of me for good, although every now and then, they’d look back to make sure I was still in the game.

Somewhere around nine miles, I really began to struggle.  I started taking breaks, sitting on the culverts and leaning against walls.  I had so many folks passing me by, asking if I was ok.  And I was, I was just exhausted.  I hydrated well along the way (a little Gatorade every mile), so I know that wasn’t the problem.  But for some reason, I was just barely getting from point to point.  It was like some crazy Walking Dead imitation, only without the constant mumbling for brains.

And every time I’d get moving again — slowly and sloppily — I had runners passing me, encouraging me as they went by.  And every now and then, someone would slow to my pace, talk with me for a few minutes before moving on.  And being in the South, there were more than a few “You’ve got this, sir” flung at me as those faster folks passed me.  Sir?  Really?  🙂

I don’t quit, and I finish what I start.  But, this… this was really brutal.  There were at least a couple of times where I wanted to pull the plug, and catch an ATV to the finish.  Every time I thought of that, I knew I’d be crushed, and I’d have to live with that.  I could see that I was so close to the finish, and that I only needed to find ways to rest, recharge, and keep moving.  That was my strategy over the last couple of miles, and I just kept counting down the kilometers.


And then it was over.  I finished, and had my medal around my neck.  (Put a tack in that; we’ll come back to it later.)

I waddled to the finisher’s tent, and found that they had a feast of pizza and other goodies.  The lady behind table asked what I wanted, and I muttered something about just wanting to sit down, eat some pizza and have the coldest Coke I could find.  She said there weren’t any chairs in the tent, but walked off for a minute, and came back with a folding chair from somewhere.  I sat right at the serving table, hunkered over my pizza and Coke like they were my precious, and began to recharge my batteries a bit.

The tent also had some massage chairs set up, so I signed up for my first ever massage.  My shoulders were awful — they always are after a long race — and I figured I wouldn’t hurt anything by getting them worked on a bit.  As it ends up, that was the best move I coulda made.  The masseuse just pummeled my back and shoulders, and it made all the difference in the world.

And while I had my face in the doughnut, someone came up and grabbed my hand.  I asked who that was, and it was Liz, coming by to congratulate me on finishing.  I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, suddenly having something wonderful happen.  It absolutely made my race.

When my massage was finished, I wandered back over to the table, and asked for the quickest path to where I’d parked my Jeep.  The folks started trying to figure that out, when a twenty-something girl said she’d just take me to the Jeep.  Wow.  I’ve never had anything like that happen at a race!

I drove back to the hotel, and that’s where I discovered that I had a medal for the full marathon, rather than the half.  I’m sure that as long as it took for me to come across the line, the volunteers weren’t expecting that grizzled old dude to be a half finisher!

I’ve thought about why this race ended up being so tough.  I thought the flat course, especially with a tail wind, would make for a fast time for me.  However, I really think that having some hills to help break up my pace, and to give me a “restful boost” on the back of those hills, could’ve been helpful.  I also think the weather toward the end of the race got to me.  It was 75° when I finished, and I felt every degree of it.  All that conspired to keep me on the course an hour longer than I’d planned for.

I am thrilled to have my second half marathon behind me!  But there’s no resting on my laurels.  I’m supposed to be in Gasparilla in two weeks for a 15k and 8k.  I’m definitely encouraged by how this race went, despite how very tough it was.  I learned a lot about myself, and that I really can push through some pretty tough racing in order to finish.  I know folks finished much, much faster than me, but for me, this was a solid win!

This race benefitted Teach for America.

Race Course

#165 – Legends in Music 5K

At the end of the year, I always have a bucket of medals from virtual races that I just didn’t find time for during the year.  This last year was particularly bad, with injuries, cold weather and me kinda falling off the wagon a little.  This is one of those race.  Prepare for more in the coming weeks!

I’ve been a Prince fan since Purple Rain was released.  I’d heard of him before that, of course, and I enjoyed some of his later music, but there was something special about that music and that film at that time.  It was a tumultuous era for me, with girlfriends and breakups, and me beginning to lay the foundation for who I’d become as an independent adult.  I needed that music then.  I couldn’t tell ya how many times I saw the film during its first run, nor how many times I lit up the CD.  I think “a lot” comes to mind.  🙂

In fact, most of my runs start with the extended version of “Let’s Go Crazy” from the film.  It’s eight minutes of fun, and is big, bouncy, and gets my mind in the right place for getting the miles laid down.

Friday night, after work, I decided I needed to get some miles in the books.  This year has been abysmal, with no where near enough miles, and knowing that I was facing a half marathon on the near horizon, I had to get out.

Careful readers will remember that my last outing had me sporting some knee issues.  Knowing that, I put my knee brace on, and even with the cold weather, I only had one slight twinge, and that was when my brace had slipped a bit.  No biggie, and after a few minutes, I was on my way.

In truth, this was the best outing I’d had in a while, and has put me in a good frame of mind for my upcoming half in Mississippi.  But, more on that later!

This event benefitted the Fender Music Foundation.

Race Course

#164 – Captain’s Run 5K

This past weekend marked two big anniversaries for me.

The first was the 31st anniversary of my entering the Air Force.  I was a lanky, introverted 22-year-old that had never left home, and only had a couple of jobs under my belt.  I barely had a work ethic, and certainly had never worked with any organization with the impact that the USAF had.  The impact was on me though… Joining the military was the best career move I ever made, and taught me a ton of extraordinarily valuable lessons that would shape me into the person I am today.

And forever linked at the hip to that anniversary is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster.  I can remember being at the MEPS station in Knoxville TN, watching the lift off of Challenger, and stepping away to the restroom, only to return to everyone in the room being stunned by what had transpired in those few minutes.

And then I was whisked away to Lackland AFB for basic training, and the obligatory blackout that (at that time) came with that.

None of us knew what had happened to Challenger.  There were rumors running around that it was sabotaged by the Soviets (yes, kids, there was still a Soviet Union at that time!).  Practically any rumor you could imagine was crawling among us newly minted airmen.  When we’d go to classes, we’d ask our instructors for information about the investigation, but of course, there was much to say in those first few weeks.

And in the most chilling of moments, I remember the sirens accidentally being activated across the base while we were in the dorms.  We quickly began scrambling to put mattresses in the windows to protect from whatever might be coming.  That was probably the closest I’ve come to genuinely believing I was done for.  Of course, we quickly heard that firing the sirens was an accident, and nothing was going on… but still.

So, with that as the backdrop, I selected the Captain’s Run to chase yesterday.  Marvel has brought Captain America to life in the recent films, and he’s quickly become my favorite Avenger.  He harkens back to simpler times, with a good dose of common sense, which, at times, seems to be missing nowadays.  Why not run a race inspired by him?  🙂

I started out of the house, and it was a cold 35°, with a blustery wind that just didn’t wanna quit.  Add to that a pretty good base of clouds, and it was obvious that some of the cold weather gear needed to come out with me.  However, I didn’t put on my knee brace.  Remember that — it’ll be important later.

As I usually do, I took the first half kilometer at a brisk walk to warm up, quickly deciding to stretch that to about thee-quarters km to make sure I was ready, and I started jangling my ungraceful self down the sidewalk.

And then my knee barked at me.

My left knee has been sore off an on for a couple of months.  I don’t know if there was a specific injury that’s caused the pain — nothing stupid that I’ve done comes to mind — but from time to time, it’s painful for a little bit of an outing.  The first time I remember this pain was at the turn around point for Flat as a Pancake back in September 2015.  I was going around a pylon at the turnaround, with my left leg on the outside (as I remember), and I came out of that with horrible pain.  It’s come and gone since then.

Wearing a knee brace seems to help, and with the cold weather, I should’ve worn my brace — in fact, I should probably be wearing it around the house.  I didn’t, and I’m sure that’s why I noticed this pain yesterday.  Note to self…

I got through my neighborhood course, though, enjoying the brisk temperatures, and just being outside in the showiness of nature (thanks Reverend Lovejoy!).  It was glorious, and nice to be back out there again.

Seriously, I’m gonna do more outings more frequently.  Really.  Honest!

Race Course

#163 – USS Moon Joggers 5K

Here it is … the middle of January.  And this is my first run of the year.  In fact, it’s my first run in about five weeks.

And I’ve missed it.

Sometimes, life just gets in the way of running, especially this time of year.  There are holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weather … and sometimes, a little too much real life drama.  That’s what happened with me.  Every day, I’d pledge that I was gonna go out on my neighborhood 5K tromp, and every day, something would eclipse that.  As a result, I have a box of medals for virtual races I have not yet run.  You’re gonna see some oldies that should’ve been run in 2016 float by.

But not this one.  This one was actually on-time!

The Moon Joggers group is a crazy-supportive collection of runners from all over the world, and it was with them that I first started running these virtual races.  The MJ’s are gathering in Utah this summer for the AF Canyon race (half marathon for me), renting a vacation home for a few days, and just reveling in the company of like-minded folks for a while.  I can’t wait!  This race was a fund raiser to help with some of the costs associated with the MJ presence at that race.

Like every other day for the last five weeks, I started my day with the best of intentions, thinking I’d go for a run at lunch, only to find myself staying indoors, taking in some chili.  It was cold and raw at lunch, and that ended up being the deciding factor in staying in.

Though the afternoon, I’d seen one of my Facebook running friends having a struggle with her running, and I chimed in with some of my thoughts about life, the universe, and everything.  And ya know what?  All that inspired me to run after work.

Now, it’s wintertime here in Da Lou, which means the Sun sets pretty dang early, leaving precious little daylight after work for me to cram in five kilometers of distance at my pace.  Immediately after work, I went upstairs, got changed into my running gear (including a rain slicker), and put myself outside.

It was sprinkling, and I’d intentionally gone out without music so I could listen to the world around me in the glory of the rain.  I love running in the rain, but it’s pretty easy to miss all the nuances of a gentle rainfall with earbuds plugged in.  I set out at a brisk pace, and just looked and listened as I went through the neighborhood.  I could hear thunder off in the east, and wondered if I was gonna get drenched.  (I didn’t, btw, although I did have a pretty good downpour for about five minutes.)

It was glorious.

Back on the road.  Outside again after a long winter’s nap.  And with an amazing sense of completion after so long away from the great outdoors I love so much.  It was a great run with which to begin 2017!

Race Course

#160 – Smokies Strong 5K

I’m a soft heart.  I really am.

Over the last year, I’ve run for the shooting tragedies in Paris, Orlando and Chattanooga.  I’ve run to bring awareness and benefit to the folks suffering through a water crisis in Flint MI.  I’ve run to raise money for colon cancer awareness, cures and support.  And as always, I’ve run in honor of our military, and in remembrance of 9/11.

And now once again, I’ve run to help aid folks in distress.  This time, it’s for the folks in the Smokies, who’ve dealt with the biggest wildfire tragedy in that area in a century.

The images and videos folks have posted, especially of Gatlinburg, have been heart-wrenching.  It looks otherworldly.  The mountains there are covered in fire, looking like something out of an apocalyptic filmmaker’s story.  It just doesn’t seem possible that this is happening in east Tennessee.

When Vacation Races and Virtual Running Club sent out an email blast about this race over the weekend, I knew I had to sign up.  I needed to do something to help.  And with this race, 100% of the proceeds are going to one of four charities that are active in the area.  I chose Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund”.

Saturday, I did my miles for this race, taking things slow, as this was my first time out on trail after my calf blowout in Tulsa.  I followed my rule of petting every dog I saw, which kept my pace down.  And although I felt a little tightening in my right calf, it wasn’t too bad.  I believe I need to get out there more this week, and put a few more miles on my leg to see how I’m recovering.

And in fairness, that’s what east Tennessee is gonna do, too.  They’ll assess what’s happened, pick up the pieces, and go right back out there, doing what they do.  I know that the any resilience that I have came from being raised in that region.  It’s part of the very air there, and I know they’ll recover, and be stronger for it.

This event benefitted Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund.”

Race Course

Everything I Needed to Know About Racing, I Learned From Ralphie

“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it’s zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us.” – from A Christmas Story

And so it was this weekend.

I mentioned yesterday that I had apparently injured my right calf muscle sometime during my races.  Truth is, I haven’t hurt that bad since completing the Route 66 half marathon last year.  After that race, anytime I sat down, it was very hard to get up, and it took everything I could do to get moving once I got on my feet.

Yesterday was just like that, except only in my right leg.  I have no idea what I could’ve done before, during or after the races.  I didn’t do anything goofy — I wore clothes I’ve worn before, shoes I wear regularly for running, and I stretched the same way I always do.  I don’t remember having any close calls where I had to avoid a collision, or any kind of potential ankle rolling that could’ve caused this.  I am totally lost about the root cause of this injury.

So after a painful, restless night of little sleep, I got up this morning, and was still in a fair amount of pain in my calf, but I was also feeling some pain across the outside of my right ankle, and noticed it was swollen.  I got dressed, and hobbled downstairs for a little coffee and poppyseed bread for breakfast.  By the time I was back at the room, it was obvious to me that four (or more) hours of beating up that already injured leg wouldn’t be the smartest idea.

Could I have finished?  Perhaps, but who know what kind of damage I would’ve done, and how much future racing it might cost me to recover from that.

I talked to Darla, told her what I was seeing and feeling, and she agreed that it was probably best for me not to put 13.1 miles of stress on my already-injured body.  Begrudgingly, I began to pack my bags, checked out of the hotel, and headed for Da Lou.

I’m disappointed.  I mean, really disappointed.  I had such high hopes, and was in such a great state of mind going into yesterday’s races.  Midway through the 5k yesterday, if you’d told me I be writing about a DNS for the half, I woulda told you you were nuts.  I knew I had these races covered.

I talked at the Blogger’s Forum Friday night about trying to keep a positive outlook, and that I really just wanted to run and write about my journey, and hopefully inspire someone else along the way.  Well, kids, this is part of the story too.  It’s not just easy every race.  Some races will challenge you like you’ve never been challenged.  Some will come easy.  Some will kick you to the curb like last week’s trash.

This weekend, I had both ends of that — the heights of revelry, and an unthinkable disaster.

But here’s the cool thing… I was smart enough NOT to push through this injury, and that probably means I’ll be out there running again sooner.  It’s one thing to be smart about running a race — working on pace, stride, breathing, and all the other things that make up a racer’s profile — but it’s just as important to be smart about an injury, and not make things worse.

Of course I’m bummed, and I’m one medal short of where I wanted to be by this time in the weekend.  However, there are always more medals to chase, more races to run, and more challenges to come.  Even if I’m sidelined for a few weeks, I’m still the same dude I was before the injury this weekend, and I’m still jonesing to get out there for my next race, and show this old body what it can still do.

#158/#159 – Route 66 5K and Fun Run

Yesterday, I motored into Tulsa for a weekend of Route 66 races.  However, before racing, I had some work to do.

I got into town around lunchtime, got checked into the hotel (painless!), and walked to the Cox Business Center, where the expo was being held.

First stop, the volunteer checkin table.  This is the second year I’ve volunteered at the expo, and I really enjoy it.  The folks at Route 66 really make it attractive too — for volunteering, you get a medal that’s as big as the 5K medal.  That’s a huge incentive, and I’m sure that makes it easy for them to attract the almost 2000 volunteers that make the race happen.

After getting checked in, I went to pick up my bibs.  Last year, this was a real challenge.  I volunteered there last year, and I was a whirling dervish, running up and down the boxes of bibs, finding folks’ bibs.  This year, they had separate kiosks broken up by bib number.  In my case I had to stop three times to get my three bibs, but it really worked sooooo much better!

Next stop was my stint was at the Fan Zone table.  We helped folks make signs to cheer on their runners — or strangers!  In fairness, there weren’t very many people in the expo at that time, so it was pretty slow.  After six hours of driving and three hours of being on my feet, I was ready to be done.

But, I wasn’t done yet.

For the second year, I participated in the Blogger’s Forum.  This is always an odd thing for me.  I’m just a guy who writes what’s in his head, tries to write like I speak, and do my best to keep things positive.  Last year and this, there were big-traffic bloggers sharing the stage with me.  And they’re pros, knowing how to market themselves and their art — there’s nothing wrong with that! — and there I am talking about this crazy little blog that gets a small amount of traffic.  And just like that, something cool happens…

Man, that just makes it all worthwhile!  I met Jeremy after the panel, when he told me he was gonna run the half next year because of what I talked about.  Put that medals aside, that’s the real reward from this weekend’s events.  I’m still blown away!

(Guess I’ll have to come back next year, and cheer Jeremy on!)

I walked back to the hotel after the panel, having all my non-race obligations completed, and started to think about dinner.  This is when I discovered that the hotel doesn’t have room service.  🙁  However, I saw a place that deals in Coney dogs on my walk back.  I’m a sucker for a good dog, so I crossed the street, and walked in.

From what I’d read on Yelp, the right way to do this was to order three of ’em, so I did.  I got them back to the hotel, and they were crazy good.  Their version of chili is a little different than mine, but that’s ok with me!

Fast-forward to this morning, and it was oddly, all nerves again.  This is the third time I’ve run the 5k here, and I know it is a hilly mess, but for some reason, those hills had me nervous.  I pulled up my big-boy underpants, girded my loins, and headed out to the start line.

For a change, I didn’t get to the start line too terribly early (I’m only two blocks away), and didn’t have to wait in the cold too long.  It was 32°, and I was using today to figure out what I needed to wear tomorrow.  As it ends up, I was able to do shorts, and be very comfy, so that bodes well for tomorrow.

After a short wait, the gun fired, and we were on our way.  This race has a few really big hills in it, and the first is less than a kilometer in.  I trotted up it like I owned it, enjoying the view of almost 2000 runners on the course.  About two kilometers in, my calves started barking pretty hard — the worst in quite a while.  (More on that later.)  Around 4km in, my legs were doing pretty well, and from there, it’s downhill and then flat.  I was in the home stretch, and pretty quickly had the finish line in site.

The Fun Run starts about an hour after the 5k starts, so I bypassed the treats and goodies at the end of the race, and found my way over to the starting line once again.  This crowd was much smaller — both in numbers and stature.  There are a ton of kids that run in this race, and it’s just a hoot to see them tackle this.  Some of them make it, some get carried by a parent, but it’s a great, positive experience, and with them all getting medals and high-fives from costumed mascots, it’s something they’ll never forget.

Two Medals, Two Beers
Two Medals, Two Beers

By the time the Fun Run is over, all the food lines for the 5k are really gone, so I ended up with just a couple of sacks of cashews.  However, the beer truck was still serving, and I had four coupons (two from each bib).  I turned in my first two, found a bench, and started drinking my Michelob Ultra’s.  I chatted with some other finisher’s, each of us slowly putting down our brews.

I’d asked one of the locals where they’d suggest to go for lunch.  They rapidly came up with Caz’s Chowhouse, telling me it was comfort food.  That sounded great, so I stood up… and found that my right calf was so tight that I could barely walk.  I hobbled along, roughly in the direction of the Caz’s, and found that it got loosened up the farther I walked, so that was a good thing.

I got to the restaurant, and asked the guy setting up the chairs for outside seating about when they opened.  When I found out it was just about twenty minutes away, I decided to wait it out.  I asked about the menu, and he told me about something called The Big Nasty.  The more he described it, the better it sounded… and then the phrase “chicken-fried bacon” fell out of his mouth.  I was sold!  The manager invited me in for a cup of coffee and to warm up, so I sat at the bar drinking my cuppa joe, and chit-chatted with her and her staff.  As it ends up, she was from Knoxville, and a big UT fan.  Perfect!

The Big Nasty
The Big Nasty

Once they officially opened, I found a table, sat down, and ordered a root beer, the Big Nasty and some fried okra.  That, my friends, is comfort food.  While I knew that this was described as being laid atop a “cat’s head” biscuit, I didn’t realize the cat they were talking about was a tiger!  That biscuit was easily 6″ in diameter, and served open-faced, it was the foundation to a load of cheese fries, a piece of chicken friend steak slathered in gravy, two eggs over medium, and couple of slices of chicken-friend bacon.  I’ve had a lot of really, really good things on my travels for these crazy races, but that by far is the best, most unique thing I’ve encountered.  And it kicked my butt.  I got through about half of it before feeling like I was gonna explode.  I was told that I did pretty well with getting that far.  🙂

And as I exited Caz’s, I thought I had a couple of blocks yet to walk to the hotel, but I quickly saw that the front door of Caz’s was cattycorner from the back entrance of the hotel.  Beauty.

So, in all a really good couple of days, but I’ve gotta admit, the tight calf is really worrying me for tomorrow.  I don’t know if it was the cold, or if I overdid something on the hills, but something different happened today, and that’s unusual for me nowadays on 5K’s.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s attempt at the half marathon!!!

Race Courses

#157 – Trekkie Trek 5K

Today was likely the last tune-up before the Route 66 races in Tulsa this weekend.  With the unseasonably warm weather (about 70° today, and close to 80° tomorrow), I’m pretty sure that anything I do is gonna feel weird when I get to Tulsa, and take on races where the temps will be closer to 30° when I start.

This was also the last of the Star Trek anniversary medals I had squirreled away.  Much like the Back to the Future anniversary last year, I hung quite a few Trek anniversary baubles from my medal shelf.  I’ve thought a couple of times about taking ’em all down — and that’s a HUGE effort — and grouping like medals together.  Maybe some day!

It was a glorious day, with loads of sunshine, and several other folks out enjoying the midday break.  I changed my route a little, and took the path down Wren Trail.  It’s been a little bit since I’ve been on that stretch of pavement, and I’d forgotten how nice it was.  At midday, there’s plenty of shade to keep you out of the sun, but still enjoy the breezes.  It was really a cleansing, refreshing time spent out in nature.

I’ve been gathering up all my goodies for the races this weekend, and as I write this, it dawned on me to see how many events I’ve done between last year’s half marathon, and this year’s.  And that number?  Seventy-four.  Seventy-four times over the last twelve months, I’ve laced up my shoes, gotten my stuff together, and headed out the door to put miles behind me, generally to the benefit of some group or another.

That may be a pretty normal cadence for more avid runners than me.  For a kid that never put the word “run” in his vocabulary until he was 48, I’m thrilled that I can still do this, and that I’ve stayed interested enough to keep picking ’em up and putting ’em down, all in the name of good causes.

This event benefitted Team Mill Hollow.

Race Course