29 October 2014

What's the damage?

Immediately after dropping off the munchkins at school on Monday, I called the PT office to see if they had an opening, which they did, in 20 minutes. I headed over. 

The diagnosis: A small tear (where the bruising was visible) in the left inner gastrocnemius and a soleus strain. 
The prognosis: Two weeks no running, no biking. I am allowed to swim but not to do flip turns or push off the wall with my leg...hmmmm. And no hard interval sets. 

Laser stim followed by ice stim on the damaged leg muscles.
And abdominal work, as per the usual. 
In other news, the PT is recommending an MRI on my abdomen, because the scooped-out hollow along the scarline on the right side isn't resolving and the pain, while always constant, is becoming more intense. I'll be looking into that, but I suspect that the drive to and from DC is the culprit for this week.

That's all I got today. MCM photo gallery is up!
(Half-way mission stats will be up on Friday.)

27 October 2014

The road to Iwo Jima: Casualty at Mile 8

Where do I begin this race recap? Based on the lead-up posts, I'm pretty sure most of you felt how much I love the MCM and how near and dear it is to me. I loved it as a lieutenant cheering on runners and handing out water, as a competitor for the Marine Corps and as a companion runner for my sister on her 40th birthday. It is the only marathon that makes me feel as though I am a part of something greater than 26.2 miles and the only one I want to run every year, even though I haven't always been able to.

This year, it is part of my challenge, my campaign to raise awareness about the MARSOC Foundation and the Semper Fi Fund, my personal endeavor to reclaim a piece of my life.

We arrived into D.C. on Friday at dinner time and settled into our digs in the East Capitol area; Saturday found us at Ted's Bulletin for breakfast and then the munchkins went to the museum with Savannah, and my buddy, Zack H., and I went to the Armory to retrieve my bib. Following that, it was a quick trip with the munchkins to the grocery store for a few race day items and then over to Alexandria to attend the MARSOC Foundation pre-race dinner.
Race bib and a smile. 
The guest speaker was Capt. Derek Herrera, someone whose story I've followed for a while and also someone, along with several friends within the SOF community, who served as an inspiration in my choice of MARSOC as one of my charities for this year. I had the opportunity to speak with him and he was gracious and generous with his time. His full story can be found on his personal website, and he was also just tapped to be the CEO of RuckPack, which is an energy drink which I happen to use during my ultras, so pretty fantastic to have the chance to meet him in person.

Capt Derek Herrera
I also received an unexpected text later that night from a veteran buddy who lives in New York who was wondering if I was running as he was and wanted to meet up at the start (his goal time was faster than mine so we couldn't run together). He also happens to be the CEO of HirePurpose, a company dedicated to assisting veterans transition and find employment with Fortune 500 companies, and the creator of the site's blog Task & Purpose.

Sunday morning was warmer than expected, and I had no need of my ear warmers or gloves and was glad I chose my singlet to race in. I met Zack H. and Zach I. at the Pentagon station and we made our way to the start. After the obligatory pre-race Port-A-John stop, we shed layers and made our way through the tunnel. One last gear shed and then a warm-up jog to the appropriate corral location for our intended race times.
Heading to security checkpoint. 
Yes, I slather on the sunscreen. 
Me and Zach I. at the pre-race staging ground.
He ran a swift 3:12!
Through the tunnel. I'm in the green jacket
running to hit the tree line one last time.
I settled into the 3:30 corral area and waited for the gun, reminding myself to take it easy and just enjoy the run with no pressure to compete. I watched the sky divers drift down, and wondered which one was Cpl Kyle Carpenter and then at the cannon boom started forward with a huge grin on my face. I loved seeing the red shirts of the Semper Fi Fund, and the grey and red shirts of the MARSOC Foundation as well as the Team RWB and all the other charities out there. I had a couple of Royal Marines to my right and front on the same pace as me and I followed them up the Rosslyn Hills, probably still smiling like a fool.

I fell into a nice rhythm around mile two and slid into synchrony with a SFF charity runner who turned out to be LtCol Vincent Ciuccoli, call sign "Dirk", a fellow Phrog pilot, west coast, who is now stationed east. We played six degrees of separation which turned out to be only one degree, and spent the next five miles chatting about our experiences and our fundraising. When we hit Rock Creek park, we got to watch the leaders go by and cheer on Mike Wardian and retired LtCol Alex Hetherington (who was a fellow MCM teammate and is in the MCM Hall of Fame).

At about the eight mile mark, Dirk said, 'Wow, it's pretty great that you haven't gotten injured doing all these races.' Not but six strides later, I felt something go pop-pop in my left calf and a sharp pain shot up to my knee. I thought I cramped and pulled off to stretch which only made it worse. I tried running again but my calf rejected that idea with a searing muscle cramp around the pain site. I waved Dirk on....

I pulled out my phone and called Zack H. to find out where they were and to tell them what had happened. We agreed that we'd convene as planned close to the 10 mile mark. I hobbled along to the right and I have to say I was both grateful for and bemused by all the runners who thought I'd somehow hit a wall and who were encouraging me to keep going.

A couple of really neat things happened on the way to 10 miles which momentarily distracted me from my situation: I had a lovely conversation with another set of Royal Marines who were encouraging me to keep on, so boys, if you read this, email me and we'll make a training plan for next year (but you'll have to run faster) AND, quite randomly, I saw Bart Yasso just hanging out near the Kennedy Center, completely inconspicuous, wearing a green shirt and orange gloves. I confirmed it was him and briefly stopped to chat, reminding him that we'd met a couple years back at the Quintiles Marathon and that we'd had a Twitter conversation earlier in the year regarding the fundraising. If I hadn't gotten hurt, I'd have missed those fun moments.

At about 10 miles, I greeted the munchkins, taped the calf, changed my shoes and endeavored to press. I agreed to meet Zack H. and Savannah at the 15 mile mark and proceed.

Training shoes on, tape secured with the Bubbaloo watching
 and the Pumpkin Noodle behind the sign. 
I made it to 12.5 and the pain was too great and I realized that if I continued, I would damage the muscle further. I knew I had to concede the day to the marathon gods. I unpinned my number and cut across Haines Point, stopping at a medical tent to grab ice, which I inserted into my calf sleeve. When I got to my little cheering section at mile 15, I let my disappointment show and Zack just gave me a hug. The hardest part was telling the Pumpkin Noodle that Mommy got hurt and that I wouldn't make it to the finish line today. She burst into tears.

Breaking the news (IT band tape was pre-race)

The Mommy part always comes first

After that it was just a slow walk back to the Metro, then the Blue Line back to East Capitol and a shower, Arnica, more ice, ibuprofen and a compression sock. A couple hours later we were back on the road and headed south toward home.

For the record, my splits through mile 8: 

1: 8:30
2: 8:40
3: 8:13
4: 7:53
5: 8:32
6: 8:12
7: 8:28
8: 8:18
Average: 8:27

23 October 2014

The road to Iwo Jima: Two stitches to I-95

Today is TRAVEL day...loading up the munchkins and hitting the road for the trek to, as the Pumpkin Noodle calls it, "George Washington, D.C." I had planned to relate a few memorable MCM training moments as part of my Flashback Friday series (including a 20-miler in Florida where I got sick from an improper powdered Gatorade-to-water ratio mixture, of my own doing), but my day went tangential when the Bubbaloo took a tumble after school and got a gash on his crown.

By tumble, I mean that instead of climbing out of his car seat to retrieve his favorite tennis ball, which he had dropped during the drive home, he leaned completely forward, from the waist, reaching straight down and as a result, when I stepped back to help him out of the car, he was instead head-down, sneakers-up making that well-known-to-all-toddler-parents intake of breath before releasing it in a bellow of surprise, pain and tears.

Yup. He's two, if you recall, and so ice and distraction were my first instinctual moves. He stopped crying as soon as I daubed his head and, as I was lacking in total situational awareness and he has a decent head of hair, I didn't see the blood, thus, after a quick lunch and a diaper change, he settled merrily into his daily nap. I awakened him almost two hours later to retrieve his sister from school and we all headed over to the park for a playdate with a school friend, him contentedly munching on pretzels and raisins and giving no indication that he'd cut his head open, and me somehow again, failing to notice the coagulated blood matted in his hair on the left and to the rear. However.....

A week prior, at a "Get Messy" party
That would be cornstarch and paint all over him.
Just about 20 minutes into playing, he trotted up asking for more pretzels and the sun glinted off a bright pool of red on the top of his head. I immediately looked to his face for an indicator of what had happened but there was nothing but a grin and a "Pretzel pwease?" I asked him if he had hurt his head and he nodded and said, "Head, ow, crash," before tapping the top of his head, close to where it was bleeding. I grabbed some Boogie Wipes (yes, that's the brand name) and tried to blot up some of the blood so I could see where the cut was. The Bubbaloo was not a fan of this, so turning to the mom next to me I said, "I need to take him home and figure out if I need to go to the doctor or the ER." She said she'd take the Pumpkin Noodle with her daughter for as long as needed and the Bubbaloo and I got into our car and headed home.

From there it was home to try and clean it a bit, but the bleeding didn't abate, so back into the car, to the pediatrician's office, where they worked us in. After some deep cleaning, and some probing, the deep (but mercifully, short) V-shaped cut was identified and the Bubbaloo received two stitches, a dragon sticker, and an appointment to return on Halloween morning to have them removed. (I have a pic, but I'll spare you that.)

So, I got naught for a FBF story today. Instead, here's a pic from the 2004 MCM. Not a good race for me, unfortunately, but I did beat the guy in the Royal Marines shirt and Mr. Big Pecs on the right.

10 years ago....

The road to Iwo Jima: Of the people

The Marine Corps Marathon's origins are simple and straightforward, and trace their origins to one Marine, Colonel Jim Fowler, who, following the tumult of Vietnam, saw that "popularity of the military services declined in the eyes of many. At the same time, distance running was gaining considerable positive attention." In a desire to promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, gain a recruiting tool and finally, to give local Marines an opportunity to qualify for the legendary Boston Marathon, Col Fowler wrote a memo to his superior, General Michael Ryan, dated 17 October 1975, outlining his idea for a Marine Corps Reserve Marathon.(1)

Today, the MCM is the third largest in the nation and the eighth largest in the world and is the largest marathon not to offer prize money, thus earning its moniker, "The People's Marathon."

The start of the 38th MCM (photo: MCM)
And it is indeed. In addition to the Marines who man the water/aid stations, motivate and encourage along the course and congratulate you at the finish, there will be runners from all 50 states, D.C. and some 50 countries, all there to traverse 26.2 miles. There will be over 150,000 spectators lining the course. Amongst these people, threaded in the sea of runners will be thousands of military personnel, active, reserve and retired, running to honor their brethren-in-arms, many of whom have fallen in service to this nation. There will be family members running in tribute, shirts bearing names of loved ones, their sacrifices never to be forgotten. There will be others still running for organizations who serve the injured and wounded, and there will be those who have recovered and are running to achieve one more goal they've set out for themselves.
Retired Cpl Torres is encouraged by his former platoon sergeant, 2ndLt Parker
during the MCM 10K last year. (photo: J. Elise Van Pool)
The two embrace at the finish. Full story here.
(photo: J. Elise Van Pool)
It is indeed a marathon of the people, about each step forward, toward that finish line, remembering what is precious as we run through a historical city, surrounded by monuments imploring us never to forget.

 (1) MarineMarathon.com, Marine Corps Marathon History

20 October 2014


It has been a tough two weeks for me, for a variety of reasons, and there are many plates on those sticks, which I am working to keep spinning so they don't come crashing down. (Have I used that analogy before?)

One of the things looming, a few days after the Marine Corps Marathon in fact, is another board for my DoD retirement and trying to get permanent retirement; previous posts on this are here and here. (The VA rejected all my claims and reduced my benefits in late September.) In conjunction, I have been having some more severe abdominal pain, which is ironically due to the munchkins getting bigger and not to anything I've been doing to keep healthy, i.e. running.  It's been affecting me mentally/emotionally probably more than it should, perhaps as it becomes more acute when I do things like sit at the computer for more than 20 minutes or when I move from sitting to standing or anytime I have to hold the Bubbaloo (which has been quite a bit this past week as he was sick with adenovirus).

There are a couple of other factors which have fed into my mental state being on the less-than-positive front and even the exercise has not released the tension to a calming level. I sometimes wonder why I feel that it's not "okay" to be angry, to want to just scream, and then I recall that it is perfectly fine to be so but it's all about channeling that negative energy away and not letting it affect you. I am going to be frank and say that I haven't done a stellar job of channeling. Maybe a funnel, but not a steady outflow channel.

I looked for something(s) to allow me to redirect, and haven't been quite successful there, either. And don't get me wrong, there are plenty of items on the 'To Do' list that require my attention, but a few of them serve as reminders of some of the things that set me off to begin with. Grrrr....

My goal for this week is to rewire and restart, turn my focus toward Sunday and slowly tackle the other items. Like Johnny Mercer said (and in this version Sam Cooke sings):

16 October 2014

The road to Iwo Jima: 26.2 FWD

Since 2006, the Marine Corps Marathon has not only been run on the streets of D.C. but also on the dirt and asphalt roads of Iraq and Afghanistan and sometimes, on treadmills in the bowels of Navy ships deployed in the Arabian Gulf. Why in the world would the men and women forward deployed choose to put themselves through the physical and mental trial of a marathon? And who thought of such an idea??

One inspirational Marine: Major Megan McClung. A public affairs officer, Naval Academy graduate, avid runner, and a 6-time Ironman finisher. While on deployment to Iraq in 2006, she contacted MCM race director Rick Nealis "offering to organize a "satellite" event for troops fighting in the war zone. She believed the Marine Corps Marathon was a ‘must-do’ for Marines and wanted to give Marines in theater the same opportunity."(1) The Marine Corps Marathon Forward was thus established.

Maj McClung is third from the right, with the headband.
L-R: Wilkerson, Hunter, McClung, Edwards,
photo from the Armed Forces XC Championships
On October 29, 2006, 108 runners lined up in Al-Anbar, Iraq to complete 26.2 miles just as 30,000 runners did the same in D.C. Megan finished second woman overall in that race. 

Runners tackle a hill during the inaugural MCM Forward race.
Photo: LCpl Brandon Roach/(DVIDS)
Maj McClung with Col Jonathan Miclot accepting her award for 2nd place.
Photo: GySgt Chad McMeen/(DVIDS)
The 108 participants in their post-race photo.
Photo: DVIDS
Less than two months later, on December 6, 2006, while escorting journalists through the streets of Ramadi, her truck was hit by a roadside bomb. She died instantly. Megan is buried in Arlington Cemetery

The legacy she left for the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen, deployed thousands of miles from home and borne from her own love of the sport, continues again this year, on dusty roads and under scorching skies, in remembrance of fallen brethren across the world and connecting those men and women to 30,000 citizens in Washington, D.C.

Photo: William G. Smith

(1) Running Times, May 2007 "Marine Marathoner Megan McClung" by David Mays

15 October 2014

The road to Iwo Jima: 10 days and a wake-up

The 39th Marine Corps Marathon. I'll shortly be in the corrals for my seventh start and currently feel the most unprepared that I have ever felt for this race. There is something baldly impressionable about this race, perhaps it's because I have always felt internal pressure to perform at a high level, as a representative of the Corps. I've never been quite able to do so and am not at a training level to attempt it this year.

The 2004 All-Marine Marathon team - Capt MK Bailey, ctr front,
won the women's race, the first active duty female Marine to do so.
A few others from that team that I am fortunate to call friends:
LtCol J. Blackwell, Maj J. Perrottet (nee Ledford), Capt K. Hunter, LtCol M. Conover & Capt B. Edwards
Hunter, Perrottet, Wilkerson
For me, the marathon has always been about the clock. It isn't about the pain or the effort, these things I am used to. It's about that infernal clock and somehow, not for lack of training or effort, but I've never hit my target time during the MCM. I've been reminding myself that, this year, the race is about start-to-finish and not about the clock. I've been in need of inspiration and a way to refocus on what it is that I am doing. Who better than a fellow Marine?

The legend. 
There was a Runner's World article this week paying tribute to Billy Mills' 1964 Olympic gold medal in the 10,000m in Tokyo. Here's the official Olympics.org video (although the announcer in the RW video has the best call down the stretch!).

What is so inspiring about Billy Mills? Not just his true-blue American story, not simply his athletic abilities but also what he has done since that race; how he took what he did and found a way to lift others up. He has dedicated his post-racing life to empowering Native American youth and raising awareness about Native American issues; he co-founded Running Strong for Indian Youth
and continues his work for that organization still, even at 76.  In 2012, he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Obama, for his work with Running Strong.*

In "Believe, Believe, Believe," the 2010 interview from Uta Pippig's Take the Magic Step coaching website, he talks about his life, his running and how he believed in himself.  His answer to the question "If you could give one piece of advice based on what you’ve learned during your incredible life what would that be?" resonated with me:

I would say that it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. The daily decisions you make in life, not the talent you possess, are what choreograph your destiny. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of excellence that takes you to victory. When you find that passion, it allows you to focus. In my Native American world when you are focused, then the body, the mind, and the spirit all work as one to motivate you to discover and achieve your dream.

 People make a big mistake when they say, “I need to be motivated.” You motivate yourself. I might inspire somebody, but that person has to be motivated within themselves first. Look inside yourself, believe in yourself, put in the hard work, and your dreams will unfold.

There you go. I'm inspired. Boom.

*The Presidential Citizens Medal is the second highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes individuals "who [have] performed exemplary deeds or services for his or her country or fellow citizens." He is the only track athlete ever to be awarded this honor.

13 October 2014

My Achilles heel

Not even metaphorically speaking but plain, no-kidding, in fact, my right Achilles heel. It's been nagging me since July and despite rest, a variety of heel heights, ice, therapy and a few electro-ultrasound treatments, it's still not quite healthy and it is most limiting when it comes to hill training and speed (which accounts for me hitting the bike trainer and simulating hill training on it and laying off the speedwork). Ugh.

Currently in training rotation: Brooks Ghost (yes, #1 & #2),
Asics Cumulus and Brooks Pure Flow
I have also been back on the treadmill these last two weeks, simply to give the heel a rest from the pounding on the roads. Right as the weather is getting cooler and it's perfect running weather.

I have to say, though, that every time I take a step forward, I am grateful. Especially that I am able to train consistently enough to warrant having four pairs of training/racing shoes, even if my weekly mileage isn't exactly heavy. I might need to hit the pool and bike a little more following the next two races (Marine Corps Marathon and Croatan-24 Hour Ultra Run) and hopefully, after Christmas, my Achilles will be amenable to more miles.

10 October 2014

FBF: I can fly!

A Flashback Friday look at me receiving my wings, designating me Naval Aviator #28,000. The time I spent training in Florida came with a few memorable moments: Hurricane Ivan and a freak hail storm that disabled all but six training helos.

Hole through the canopy

Every one of these was somehow damaged in the storm,
whether it was the rotor, avionics, canopy, tunnel or control console.
I also remember being a bit circumspect while everyone was celebrating making the proverbial victory lap after the winging ceremony. My thoughts:

1) "Does anybody realize that we still have a s@!$-ton to learn about flying still? Like, we have so much more studying to do if we're going to be any good at this. A s@!$-ton. I mean, we don't even know what we don't know....."
2) "Well, crap, now I've got to make sure these things are properly aligned on my uniform...how do I keep my lapel from covering my wings.....anyone??"

Me and John G., now a LtCmdr. He also took me on my first deer hunt.
Good dude. (Flight instructors in the background, probably talking air tactics - ha!)
One of the things is not like the other....

09 October 2014

Biscuits, Baghdad and cats in pants

This is all I got today....sometimes, humor is the only way to summarize a situation. And I DO like pie.....

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley (July 13, 2005) 
Sometimes, there are just no good ways to communicate......

Pearls Before Swine by Stephen Pastis (April 21, 2005)

And this is somehow still prescient, if you can appreciate the dark humor....

(First printed Sunday, July 30, 2006)
Basically, this sums up my last two days....

(C) Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson 

07 October 2014

What're your plans?

I have had many people ask, "So, how do you train for that?" and the real answer is: I'm not. Let me qualify that statement.

If you are familiar with this.....well, you know.
Image: www.sport-fitness-advisor.com
No, that is not my training plan, although I have been there, boy, have I been there. I have been on strict 18-week training cycles for marathons, 10-week blistering summer heat training plans for cross country and have done targeting running for the smattering of road races of all distances in between. I've had pace per mile down to a science, track splits and repeat intervals memorized and the "planned marathon pace" runs carved into my cortex. The aim for each of these training plans was simple - race at capacity with a target finish time. That is not the goal of this endeavor.

The goal is to run in support of those working to get back on their feet (figuratively and literally), to return to that thing that brings me joy and enriches my life, to defeat the medical naysayers and to redefine my new "normal" in terms that make sense for me.

Image from: MaraMon2013
But, really, though, "How are you training for that?" If you look at the training calendar, you'll notice that I am running around 3-4 times a week, with cross-training thrown in for good measure on non-running days. My longest training run has been in the vicinity of 14 miles and I am on hiatus from the track workouts. While I give each race my full effort, I am not seeking to conquer the competition; by all rights, I shouldn't even be toeing the start line, so it's about that - making it from start to finish.

Image from: fb.com/Distant Runners
"Yes, but don't you want to go fast?" Fast is relative. A long-lost relative as it were, so it puts my training into perspective.  Most of my training runs, both long and short, have been in the range of 8:25-8:45, with a few averaging under and a few over. I will hop back onto some interval training following the Croatan 24-hour Race in November, as three of the last five races are 13.1, 25K, and 13.1, respectively. Nonetheless, I train based on how I my body feels (not just my legs), understanding that I will need to run on tired legs at times and preparing to up my mileage and begin adding back-to-back long (15-miles+) runs in as January rolls around. When I was recovering, it was an enormous victory to walk to the end of my block and back; that I can run at all is my reward, speed is just a number and a mile is still a mile, no matter how quickly I cover the distance.

I have training partners, a club I run with and some milestones I am achieving in every race. I love running - the exhilaration, the fatigue, the lactic acid, the sweat and the pain. Most of all, I love that I have the opportunity to lace up and get out there.  In essence, that's my training plan.

Image: www.runnersworld.com

05 October 2014

A long-overdue dedication ceremony

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial dedication ceremony is today in Washington, D.C. The Memorial consists of a reflecting pool, with a star-shaped fountain broken by a ceremonial flame in its center, a series of bronze sculptures, 48 etched and laminated glass panels and two stone inscription walls (with quotes from George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower).

The memorial is the result of the efforts of Lois Pope, an American philanthropist, through her Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation. She spearheaded the effort in 1997 after reflecting that there was no memorial dedicated to those, living and deceased, who were disabled as a result of their service to their country.

Below is the excerpt from the DVLMF page where she describes the moment over 40 years ago, as a Broadway performer entertaining disabled vets receiving treatment at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in New York:

 "I chose the song "Somewhere" from West Side Story. One of its lyrics goes, "Hold my hand and I'll take you there." As I sang those words, I saw one man lying on a gurney. He had no hands for me to hold!

But he did have a smile that illuminated the room brighter than any klieg light on a performance stage. With that smile, he took me not "there," but here, to where my life was enlightened, inspired, and forever changed. 

I left the Rusk Center that evening with the determination that the courage and tenacity of these veterans would be recognized and honored in perpetuity. I envisioned a memorial which would honor them, their courage and serve to educate all Americans as to the human cost of their sacrifices. 

Some years later in Washington, I stood at the Vietnam Wall before my cousin's name. I looked around at the other Memorials. There was Washington, and Jefferson, and Lincoln. But there was no memorial to that quadriplegic at the Rusk Center. There was no permanent monument to these courageous young men and women. They have given so much more than was ever asked for by their fellow citizens. 

We, therefore, have a solemn obligation to assure that they will never be forgotten or neglected. I thought to myself, all right, now I am in a position to do something about this. I must." 

The Memorial is located at 150 Washington Ave., SW, just across from the U.S. Botanical Gardens and near the Capitol. 

I agree that this Memorial is long overdue and I hope it brings some comfort and solace to those injured and disabled in our country's conflicts. 

(All Memorial photos courtesy of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial website.)