Thursday, June 17, 2010

Off and Running

Over the past four weeks, I have taken up running. With school out and all of our sporting events done for the summer, I don't have late-night reporting to worry about with my job as a sports information director for a few months. My initial thought was what better way to get my day off to a good start than by going for a run every now and then.

My wife, Carla (at left), has been the biggest inspiration for me when it comes to taking up running. Over the past two years, she has trained and run the past two Capital City Half Marathons (13.1 miles) all while working full-time and being the primary caretaker for our two girls since my hours are pretty crazy most of the time. She sacrificed a lot of what little free time she had with late night runs on the treadmill and early Saturday morning runs at the Kokosing Gap Trail.

Fortunately, my schedule has worked out both times on race day and I've been able to watch her run the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus each of the past two springs. It's a big event with around 10,000 people taking part. If you have never gone to watch a half marathon, I encourage you to do it. It's inspiring to watch people of all ages and sizes push themselves to be better and to finish the race. For most of them, the race is just the culmination of a personal journey of much training and perseverance that has brought them to the starting line. Cheered on by a great crowd, they are able to reach their goal of crossing that finish line 13.1 miles later and for most the time is not even relevant. They did what they set out to do and what probably a lot of people thought they couldn't do.

After witnessing this twice and being so proud of Carla for doing it (especially the second time when it would have been easy to just say 'well, I did it once and that's that'), I am now contemplating running in the Columbus Half Marathon on October 17th. Since I have all summer to train without the pressure of games going on and since the race is on a Sunday and we don't have sporting events, there is really no good excuse for why I shouldn't do this.

So, on May 26th, I headed to the Kokosing Gap Trail for my first two-mile run. I didn't take an iPod and I really had no idea how to set a pace and just took off thinking that it would be no problem. By the time I got to the one-mile mark and was turning around to head back, I was thinking to myself 'what in the world have I gotten myself into'? I was able to finish and headed for home, but it definitely wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

The next day, I came back to attempt two miles again. Once again, I was fine for the first mile. However, as I approached the half mile mark on the way back, I was ready to just walk the final 800 meters. I passed an older lady who was walking and said 'I think you've got the right idea'. She came back with 'well, you sure seemed to have a lot more energy yesterday.' Well, that was the kick in the pants that I needed to get back into a jog and finish the two miles without walking.

I only ran a total of three miles over the next two weeks as I debated whether this was something I really wanted to commit to doing or not. During this time, I came up with lots of excuses of why I was too busy or didn't need to do it. However, every time I voiced one to my good friend, Jay Stancil (who is the SID at Union College in Kentucky), he would tell me how busy he was, but that he still put in the time to run even if it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. (He wants to come to Columbus to run in the half marathon in October as well as an early birthday present to himself.)

So, after two weeks of coming up with excuses only to have Jay shoot them all down, I headed back to the trail on June 12th with a new frame of mind. I also took my iPod along this time. I went into my run that day planning to do two miles, but kept pushing myself and ended up running to the two-mile mark instead. Before I knew it, I had run two miles out and two miles back and had four miles under my belt in a time that I was pretty pleased with. I went back the next day and ran three more miles before heading off to Cleveland to watch the Indians face rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. It felt really good to have done seven miles in the span of two days.

I also have to say that running with an iPod really took my mind off the run and also helped me get into a better pace. My friend, Aaron Conrad (who is a distance running expert now after doing four half marathons in the span of four weeks earlier this spring), always puts together great playlists for his runs that help him do a lot of thinking while he's passing the time. Choosing the right songs for your runs can really help you get through it.

You never really know what songs will help motivate you or give you things to think about as you listen to the words during your run. After taking Monday off, I headed out on Tuesday planning to do two or three miles. The run didn't start very well as my iPod got stuck on the first song that came on - "When I See You Smile" by Bad English. (Yes, I enjoy hair bands from the '80s.) Well, while I like that song, I really didn't want to listen to it over and over again, so I started messing with the iPod while I was running. I also didn't want to stop because once I start it's a race with myself to see how fast I can finish.

Before I knew it, I had messed with the iPod for half a mile and still couldn't get it off the song. However, my legs were feeling great so I decided to really push myself and just bite the bullet and become really familiar with that one song. As I listened to the words over and over again, I realized that they applied to me as a husband and father. Besides my faith, there is nothing more important to me than my wife and girls (Ashley and Kylie). They are what gets me through tough times and their love and smiles are something that genuinely warms my heart and lifts my spirits.

Taking up running has been something that I'm doing to not only get into better shape, but also to become more disciplined in what I do with my free time. For the first time in over 20 years, I'm not playing church softball this summer. While that didn't take up tons of my time (except for all the field maintenance that I would do), it did keep us from planning some family things in the summer when I had games. We've already been able to do some things like our recent trip to D.C. because I'm not playing softball. Getting up to run early in the morning is also a great way for me to get my day started instead of just laying in bed until I feel like I should finally drag myself out and do something productive.

The running bug has biten me pretty good now. After taking the morning off yesterday because I knew that I would need to spend an hour and a half push mowing my yard after work, I went and ran a mile on the trail before getting cleaned up just because it was too nice of a day to miss out on. (I will say that I like the morning runs better, though, because there are a lot less people on the trail then to have to manuever around.)

I got another five-mile run in this morning without incident from the iPod. It was a great morning and got my day off to a great start. I was feeling so good that I was even able to sprint the final quarter of a mile to finish as strong as I have since I started this process.

Well, I'm still a long ways from both 13.1 miles and the October 17th race, but I'm getting closer with each stride. Through the encouragement of my family, friends like Jay and Aaron, and the regulars on the Kokosing Gap Trail around 7:00 a.m. each morning, I'll get there. I also need to put my money where my mouth is and sign up for the race because then it will be official. I plan to do that after a family vacation in July.

If you have any running tips or want to mutually encourage each other with an upcoming race, I would look forward to hearing from you. It's a journey and it's more fun with more people on it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

48 Hours in D.C.

Last weekend, my family and I decided to spontaneously take a trip to Washington D.C. for the weekend and Twitter played a big part in making it happen. Here's how this memorable whirlwind experience all came to be.

A month or so back, I jokingly mentioned to one of my Twitter friends, Niki Murray, who works in season ticket sales for the Washington Nationals, that she should hook me up with some tickets for a game at Nationals Park when the Cincinnati Reds made the trip to our nation's capital the first weekend in June. She had responded at the time and encouraged me to make plans to do just that.

Well, early last week, I decided to see if that ticket offer was still good. I figured that if I got free or inexpensive tickets to a pair of games that it would be worth my time to make the trip, knock off one of the three remaining cities where Carla and I haven't seen a baseball game over the past 14 years, and give my girls their first opportunity to see all the monuments and other sights in D.C.

Niki assured me that she would have tickets waiting for me at will call when we arrived for the game on Saturday night. Then, I cashed in most of my Marriott Reward points by booking a free two-night stay in a very nice Courtyard by Marriott that was located in Navy Yard, about two blocks away from the baseball stadium.

So, we packed up the car and made what turned out to be about a seven-hour drive to D.C. as soon as our oldest daughter, Ashley, got out of school on Friday. A line of storms followed us to the north most of the trip, but we had pretty smooth sailing with just one stop. We rolled into D.C. around midnight. I had joked with my wife, Carla, that we should just go see all the monuments that night since the weather was questionable for Saturday. Well, after missing one of our turns, we ended up seeing all the monuments as we got stuck in the loop much like in National Lampoon's European Vacation before we were finally able to get our bearings and find the hotel. We quickly got checked in and situated and went to sleep so that we could be ready for the next day.

Saturday morning rolled around and everyone got up eager with anticipation to do some exploring in downtown D.C. before going to the baseball game that night. Our hotel was conveniently located about half a block from a Metro station and we quickly purchased an all-day pass for unlimited access to the great D.C. subway. (Quick note: The D.C. Metro is awesome and definitely the way to get around town!) Two stops later, we popped up right in the middle of downtown and we were ready to start walking. We were on Pennsylvania Avenue, so we decided that our first stop might as well be the White House so away we went.

After walking between the White House and the Washington Monument, we headed back to the subway with a quick stop for lunch at one of our new favorite places, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, along the way. It was a welcome break to sit down in the air conditioning for a short break on the hot day.

With our bellies full, we headed off to find the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln is Ashley's favorite president and she was looking forward to this stop. We spent quite awhile there and then walked around the reflection pond to the Washington Monument where we also saw the Jefferson Memorial from a distance. From there, we walked past the Smithsonian and then boarded the Metro for the ride back to the hotel. A nice swim in the hotel pool later and we were all refreshed and ready to head to Nationals Park for some baseball.

Heading into the weekend, Washington D.C. was one of only three cities (along with Boston and Miami) that Carla and I had not seen a Major League Baseball game in, so we were really excited to see the ballpark. Add in the fact that the Reds were in town and we couldn't wait for the first pitch to be thrown. My friend, Niki, took great care of us with field level seats just up from first base and we got set to watch a good pitchers' duel between Reds' Rookie of the Year front runner Mike Leake (5-0) and Luis Atilano (5-2) with Leake coming out on top and collecting two hits as well as the Reds won 5-1. We also saw a home plate collision, two ejections, and I caught a ball in batting practice for Ashley. All in all, a very good day.

On Sunday, we woke up and took advantage of the very good extensive all-you-can eat breakfast bar at the Courtyard by Marriott that was a great deal for the price. After packing up the car, we headed to the ballpark again. The girls each got a batting helmet which they then got signed by Jamie Burke, one of the Nationals' players. There was no batting practice due to an on-the-field event, but I was still able to talk to Drew Storen, a first round pick of the Nationals in 2009, for a few minutes for the second straight day and later he would throw me a ball up from the bullpen. Two games, two balls...not too shabby. Drew's a good guy just starting his career and you can follow him on Twitter at @DrewStoren. I would also like to say a big thanks to my friend, Elizabeth McGraw, for helping to get us together.

The Reds rallied to win the game on Sunday 5-4 in 10 innings thanks in part to a pinch-hit, two-run homer by Scott Rolen in the 9th inning that landed a section away from me as we watched the ninth inning from leftfield so we could get on the road as soon as the game ended. So, with two wins and lots of memories from the whirlwind trip, we headed for home.

On the way home, we made a slight detour to see one of my high school friends, April Boulton Amberman, and her family in Olney, Md. We had a great visit with her family and then journeyed the rest of the way home. We were able to make it all the way on one stop as the girls were great. The only real problem on the way home came when we were just 27 miles from home and had to wait for 40 minutes on a train to go back and forth and back and forth and.....well, you get the picture. We finally got back to Mount Vernon at 2:00 a.m.

D.C. is a great place to visit and Nationals Park was a fun place to watch a game. There is really not a bad seat in the place, and with friendly people like Niki making the visit fun it's a must-see for every baseball fan. I can't wait to see what adventure we decide to embark on next time. If you've got a suggestion, let me know and you might be part of the next adventure, too.