My friend, Misery

I have been training for several months now for this challenge.  I really thought the training regimen would get easier as the days and weeks rolled by.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  I am fully convinced the training is tougher and is chewing me up and spitting me out every day.  I am miserable every morning while training.  I have to fight myself every day to keep moving.  My legs ache.  My arms are sore.  I hurt.

 I have incorporated a long run on the weekend into my training routine.  This past weekend was a 5 mile run on the levee next to my good friend the Mississippi river.  Sunday morning 5:30am standing on the levee feeling tired and hot, I was already sweating and my legs felt like concrete blocks.  As the run began I knew it was going to be a long day.  I could never seem to find a rhythm.  Every step felt like work.  It was almost like I had to force each muscle to do what should be natural.  About 4 miles in, I started to loosen up and find a rhythm (better late than never I suppose) and was able to increase my pace and finish strong.  Tim was running next to me the whole way and I’m sure he was ready to push me off the levee as I continued to talk of the oppressive heat and humidity during the entire run.

Speaking of oppressive heat and humidity, let me try to describe what it feels like to train outdoors in south Louisiana during the summer.  Sweat begins to build on my face and arms immediately when I open the front door and leave my house.  As the 35 minute run comes to an end, my shirt is almost completely soaked and my shorts are beginning to dampen as well.  After the first few exercises of the circuit is when the sweating passes the ridiculous phase and enters something terribly different.  For all you Spaceball fans this type of sweating would be called the ludicrous phase.  There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be as wet if I jumped into a pool.  Sometimes I think if I had gills as well as lungs I would be better off as the air is so thick with humidity. 

As I write this, a smile comes to my face and I think back to when I started this journey.  I was unable to run a few blocks and I certainly would have collapsed in the heat.  I had aches and pains but not the good type of aches and pains from pushing yourself.  I feel better.  I feel stronger.  This is the best misery I have ever endured and I love every minute of it.

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Declaration of Fond Memories

There are times in our lives when we have an opportunity to see ourselves from a different point of view.  I had the opportunity this morning to run at my old high school on the same cross country course I ran hundreds of times before.  The course is a 2 mile loop around the entire high school campus.  Half of the course is around the student parking lot and the front of campus along State Hwy 22.  The second half is behind the football field and along a dirt path through a wooded area.  I haven’t run this course in nearly 15 years but as soon as I started I felt like my 16 year old self again.

The first half of the course is the portion I ran for the first 2 years of high school cross country because at that time the second half had not been developed.  I ran the total loop twice for a total of 4 miles.  These were 4 of the most fun miles I have run in a very long time.  As I ran the first loop there was a smile across my face that I couldn’t have contained if I wanted to.  I dodged the same holes and jumped the same ditches I had done so many times so long ago.  Someone even honked their horn at me during that first lap which made my smile grow even more.

Memories flowed through my mind as though they had happened yesterday.  Memories of the “games” we played while waiting for practice to start; Wall ball, air pump football, The Gate (thanks Brandon & Wil).  Memories of my old teammates, especially from my freshman year when our cross country team felt more like a family than just a team.  We all had our different reasons for running but I believe we all enjoyed each others company, I know I did.  We were also pretty good and luckily for us we had some good senior leadership (Charlie & Clay) to not let us slack too much.  Besides, Charlie probably would have kicked our ass if we didn’t try our best.  I thought of my “partner in crime”, Jennifer, when I was trying to figure out a way onto the track when all the gates were locked.  I’m sure if she were there we would have been running on the track in no time.  I have fond memories of all of my teammates throughout my high school career.  I’m also confident the cross country team at my old high school will continue to do great things as they are in the capable hands of a coach with 2 state championships under her belt.

As I started the second lap my thoughts changed from old running memories to a reflection on the meaning of today, July 4th.  I am always humbled when I think of what our founding fathers sacrificed so long ago so that I can do something as simple as going for a morning run.  I wonder how many people realize who our founding fathers were at the time they declared independence.  For instance, Thomas Jefferson was only 33 years old (for comparison, I will be 32 this year) when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (click on the link for the transcript of the Declaration) and helped create the greatest nation mankind has ever known.  These men sacrificed their property, their names, and most importantly their lives to tell the world’s largest and most feared Empire that enough was enough.  The subsequent war, the American Revolution, was fought not on some distant battlefield and only heard about when the media decided to acknowledge it, but in their cities and in their homes.  They endured war for 8 years amongst their homes so we could live freely today.  I want to take a moment to thank them, to thank all the men and women who sacrificed so much for me and my family 235 years ago.  Without knowing it, you fought for me and my family.  I am sincerely grateful for your sacrifice.

I also want to take a moment to thank those men and women who have served and/or still serving to protect our freedom today.  A special thank you to those friends of mine who currently serve in all branches of military, especially Moises, Matt, Nick, Noel, Tommy, Tony, Katie, Nate, David, Dennis, and Larry.  You all are an inspiration to me and I am proud of all you.  Thanks you so much for what you do to keep my family free and safe.  If I forgot anyone please accept my apology and know that the next time I see you I owe you a cold beer or a stiff drink; or both.

Sunrise at the end of my morning run.

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Olympic dreams and a new team

Once the pollen count was low enough for me to begin training again, I started to train with Tim on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6am.  It took a couple of weeks before I was able to complete the 35 minute run as I had to rebuild the endurance I lost during the pollen season.  I am always amazed at how fast you can lose your endurance when not being able to run.  I am also as amazed at how quickly endurance can be built when a person is really determined and committed to a workout schedule.  I told myself once when I was 14 that I would never let myself get out of shape again because of the pain of the first two weeks of getting into shape.  I think my 14 year old self would have punched me in the face a few years ago, maybe that would have helped.

The morning workouts have become harder and harder although I do the same circuit workout 3 times a week.  I believe this is because as I get stronger and build more endurance I try to push myself harder.  Unfortunately, this may also be due to the rising temperature here in south Louisiana and ridiculous humidity.  When I first started this training regimen the temperature was in the 50’s while the humidity was almost non-existent.  The weather is now 80 degrees with 90% humidity.  I typically drink 24 ounces of Gatorade during the workout and multiple glasses of tea and water prior to lunch on my workout days.  I don’t think I have ever sweat so much in my entire life.This is the first time in my life I have ever committed to a circuit workout for this long.  I thought at the beginning of this challenge the running portion would be the hardest part of the workout as I had not run in so many years.  However, running 3.5 to 4 miles prior to the rest of the workout now almost feels like a warm up instead of a workout.  I have dropped 5 pounds and am starting to see and feel my old running “physique”.  I wish I would have started, or never stopped, running years ago as I feel I have lost so much time.  Being active, and especially running, was always such a large part of my life growing up.  I don’t know why I ever let it go.

Growing up I always dreamed of being part of an Olympic team.  To walk into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremonies knowing everyone there is just as excited and passionate for what they do would be a feeling like no other.  I wanted to wear my countries colors and live the Olympic dream.  I just wanted to be a part of it.  Unfortunately, I knew all along I didn’t have the physical abilities to be an Olympian and that’s ok.  The Keep Movin’ team has helped me reignite my passion for running.  I feel like I’m part of something, part of a team.  It’s been a long time and it feels right.

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Freedom & a Rabbit

 

After my allergy episode I had to find a way to continue to train without being exposed to pollen.  I don’t belong to a gym and don’t think I ever will.  I understand the benefits of a gym, especially with an indoor track during allergy season, but I have always enjoyed exercising outside.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about running outside but I love it.  I don’t use headphones and never have either.  I think it is because I enjoy hearing the sounds of the world.  I enjoy hearing the wildlife, cars on the road, boats on the river, even other runners and bikers on the same path.  I think most of all though I enjoy “feeling” the run.  By that I mean, being in tune with my breathing, my body, and my mind.  I think above all it is a feeling of being alive.  Regardless of whether a particular run seems easy or hard the “feeling” is still present.  The “feeling” can probably best be described as a feeling of personal and immediate freedom.

When my allergies prevented me from exercising outside I was upset but I had to figure out something so I could keep moving forward with my training.  I decided to train at home in my living room.  Obviously I could not do any running in my house but I could continue the rest of the circuit workout.  Since I wasn’t running I went ahead and added some additional core exercises to my workout.  Thankfully it was only about a month that I was confined to my living room for workouts.  By the way, I never thought a person could sweat as much while working out in the air conditioning. 

The day before Easter was the Crescent City Classic (CCC) in New Orleans.  I had signed up several months before but knew it would be difficult since I hadn’t run in over a month.  For those who don’t know, the CCC is a 10k race through the streets of New Orleans starting in the French Quarter at Jackson Square and ending in City Park with a nice semi-shaded portion of the course along Esplanade Ave.  The CCC is a race like no other.  A lot of people participate in the CCC more as a party instead of a race.  Along with the water stations along the course, racers can also find free beer stations, margarita shots, Hurricane shots, Jello shots, and even mimosas.  The CCC is also known for being one of the fastest 10K’s on the planet as it is a flat road course normally run in ideal weather conditions.  This year the weather was scorching and I believe ended up around 90 degrees with high humidity as well.  The good news for me though is the pollen level had finally started to decrease and I would be able to run the CCC. 

I had no real goals going into the CCC this year as I had not run in over a month and certainly did not feel prepared at all.  At the 2 mile mark I felt like I was dragging my feet and my shirt was completely soaked.  I hit the 3 mile mark at 30 minutes and felt exhausted.  It was also at this point I saw a woman in a rabbit costume go running by me.  If I had any spare energy I probably would have laughed at myself.  I walked several times during the race but I told myself over and over, “Keep Movin’ the finish line is ahead and you can’t make it there if you stop!”  I crossed the finish line in 1 hour and 12 minutes.  I was satisfied.

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Allergies are the devils work

The evening of my first circuit workout was agony.  As you may remember, I have severe allergies to just about everything from pollen, dust, grass, mold…everything.  I don’t recall having these allergies when I was a kid but they certainly have made up for it over the last few years.  Apparently the pollen count was relatively high, 10.5 out of 12, the morning I completed my first circuit workout.  I had started to feel pretty worn out and foggy by that afternoon but figured it was just from the brutal workout that morning.  By the time I went to bed that evening I knew my allergies had been triggered and there was little I could do to stop it.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a 102 degree fever and freezing so much I had to get up and find a heavy quilt.  For any of you Yankees out there reading this, a quilt is almost unnecessary any time of the year down here but certainly not in March. 

I went to the ENT the next morning and told him what I had done to trigger my allergies.  He kind of laughed and with a great big smile told me I was forbidden to do any strenuous outside activity until the pollen levels dropped.  This was a big blow as I knew my training would take a beating.  I do not belong to a gym mostly because I enjoy being outside and love the connection to nature on long runs.  I knew I needed to keep moving forward with my training so I decided to continue the circuit workout without the running in my living room.  For the next 6 weeks I trained in the comfort of my living room every morning.  I was miserable but knew I just had to wait out the pollen.

I did some research to find out how I could track pollen levels and air quality levels to avoid any setbacks in my training.  I found an app on the iPhone that allows me to track pollen levels from www.pollen.com.  The website gives the same daily and 4 day forecast levels as the app if you don’t have an iPhone.  I have also found the website, www.airnow.gov, to help track ozone levels and air quality.  I have found that anything under an 8.0 on pollen.com and no more than a yellow air quality code and I can exercise without issue.  I am also on weekly allergy shots for another year and daily allergy medication which has allowed me to continue to train while trying to overcome my allergies.  To any fellow allergy sufferers I hope the above websites help.

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Brutal workout

Once I had decided I would take on the Tough Mudder challenge, I realized I would have to commit to a lifestyle change.  The only time in my schedule to put in the necessary time training would be early in the morning and I was used to staying up pretty late every night.  When I had started to train back around the beginning of the year I had started going to bed at night no later than 10pm so I could get up at 5am for my runs in the brutal (for south Louisiana) cold.  As you can imagine waking up at 5am to run is not the easiest thing to do when you are by yourself.  I knew I had to find a training partner if I had any chance to succeed.

I started to recruit for the Keep Movin’ team.  I first contacted some close friends and family who I thought would be interested.  I picked up Jeff, Zach, and Joey right away.  I then asked a couple of co-workers and was able to recruit Tim.  Once Tim was in we immediately talked about training together.  We decided on a 3 day a week training schedule where we meet at 6am at a local park to complete the training circuit on the Tough Mudder website (http://toughmudder.com/training-prep/).  The other days of the week we each do different types of training but Monday, Wednesday, and Friday have become our circuit workout days.  We knew from the first day we attempted the circuit workout we were in for a LONG 9 months until the challenge.

The first day Tim and I met for the circuit workout was a nice cool Wednesday morning in March.  We decided to run 8 200m sprints on the track followed by a 16 exercise circuit.  It was a miracle that I finished the sprints and I had absolutely no idea what I was in for with the circuit exercises.  The circuit exercises are done for 60 seconds each with a 15 second rest in between each exercise.  I did what I could on each exercise but I don’t think I completed any of them to the full 60 seconds.  The 15 second rest in between stretched to more like 2 minutes in between.  At the end of the workout my head felt like it was going to explode and I had tunnel vision.  It was a brutal workout but it felt great at the same time.

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The Beginning

Around my 30th birthday I decided I wanted to get back in shape as I had become a bit of a couch potato. It was also around that time when I realized I couldn’t hold my son for very long before my arms would get tired or cramped. I felt much older than 30 and seemed to be having health issues I had never experienced before. I had become severely allergic to most pollens, dust, mold, and everything in between. In March of 2010, I had a large polyp removed from my nasal passage that had completely blocked one of my nostrils and had started to block the other. Once this was removed I realized how much I had been affected by it and how much better I slept and breathed afterward. Around the end of 2010, I decided to register for a 3 mile mud run and obstacle course that was scheduled for February. I made a 1 month running schedule to motivate myself to get out of the house in the cold weather at 5am to train for this event. It was slow going at first but eventually I began to see improvement and was feeling pretty good about my new routine. I started out by running about 8 blocks each morning and struggled to finish. I began incorporating push-ups and core exercises to begin building some strength.

The mud run finally came and I thought I was in decent shape and ready for it. I arrived for the race and met some friends who would be running with me. A large storm cell capable of producing tornados was headed in our direction but we thought we had a shot at getting on the course and completing it prior to the worst of the weather. As we headed to the start line and the adrenaline started pumping an announcement was made to cancel the event due to an impending tornado in the area. We were about 50 feet from the start line when the announcement was made. Needless to say we were furious at the time and later that fury turned into disappointment.

We were told to evacuate the area and head for shelter. The problem, however, was that our vehicle was about 3 miles from the start line and there were only 4 school buses for about 4,000 people to evacuate. My friends and I along with the majority of the race participants decided it would make more sense if we ran back to our cars instead of waiting for a bus. We took off on a 3 mile run on top of a levee through the Bonnet Carre Spillway. During the run back to the car is when I realized I was nowhere near ready for this type of event and was not close to being in shape. We eventually made it to our car and sat in traffic while tornado sirens sounded all around us. While sitting in traffic on the only road back to civilization is when my friend Jeff (his bio and journey can be followed as well) and I decided we were going to train for and complete a Tough Mudder challenge. From that day on I began to assemble a team and start training for what hopefully and expectedly will change my life forever.

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