Friday, September 20, 2013

Jersey Boys...Oh What a Night

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the Broadway on Tour performance of Jersey Boys at the Ohio Theatre.  I had heard lots of positive things about the show and was definitely looking forward to seeing what it was all about.

Well, the show and the packed house did not disappoint.  It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and how the group came to be.  The story is told in a very entertaining way from the perspectives of all four members of the group in four segments (seasons) and they use the seemingly endless hits that they produced to do it.  I've been to several of the shows in Columbus the past few years and this was probably the most the entire audience has gotten into the entire performance.

You don't realize how many hits these guys had until they just keep singing and singing.  It was a very interesting look into life on the road for four guys and all the things that go into keeping groups together and watching them fall apart.  The rise and fall of relationships, financial struggles, sacrifices, and successes.

Nick Cosgrove as Frankie Valli really delivered with a voice that you just don't find anywhere.  Jason Kappus as Bob Gaudio, Brandon Andrus as Nick Massi, and Nicolas Dromard as Tommy DeVito were also outstanding.  All four really embraced their roles and seemed perfect for the personality that they were portraying.

If you are looking for a fun evening out, this is a show for you.  There is some language that would not be suitable for children, so just make this a date night and enjoy!

This show will be in Columbus until September 29.  For more information about the show or to purchase tickets, visit the CAPA website at:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Running Apparel Brands...Can You Keep Me Dry?

This is a different kind of blog entry for me.  Running friends, I need your help.  And brands who make running apparel, I would REALLY love to hear from you.

Those of you who know me and especially if you have ever run with me know that I'm a big guy (6-foot-6, 198 lbs after this morning's weigh-in).  And when I run, I really sweat!  I mean the kind that sometimes during a 10-mile summer run requires wringing out my shirt (if I wear one) multiple times with enough liquid coming out that I could more than refill the liter bottle of water that I usually carry.  And it doesn't stop there.  The longer I run, the more my shorts and even shoes just become soaked.  Yes, I's gross.  And uncomfortable.

Here's where you - the reader - come in.  I've tried numerous supposed dri-fit, moisture-wicking shirts and shorts.  I would love to hear your recommendations, running friends.  Especially if you perspire heavily like I do.  I would like to especially challenge a brand or two to step up and let me review a set of their products (shirt and shorts) in exchange for proving that they've got the best gear on the market, especially when it comes to shorts.  I typically haven't spent a lot of money on this apparel because I haven't seen a difference.  However, my guess is that Nike, Asics, Brooks, Under Armour, or another brand has a product out there that they feel confident in and might want to sell me on it.  And, Lululemon...I'm on your mailing list and read all your claims that your $64 Pace Breaker shorts are the best out there.  I really challenge you to put your money where your mouth is and send me a pair to prove it.  Until then, there is no way I'm forking over that kind of cash for a product I know nothing about except from my female running friends who swear I'll see a difference.  Oh, and Running are welcome to get in on this challenge, too, as you have access to every brand.  What's your recommendation for this very loyal customer?

I look forward to hearing your responses, running friends, and let's see if any brand is truly willing to put their products to the test.  I mean...what are they out, right?  I've proven time and time again that I'm a loyal customer when I find products and services that work for me and meet my expectations.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The First Five Grand

My first race (left) and my most recent marathon (right)
This morning's run was much like most of my runs.  No fanfare.  Just me, a few other runners and bikers, and the open road or in today's case the open trail.

However, today's run was extra special.  During the first mile of what would end up being a 7-mile run, I ran my 5,000th career mile.  To some that might seem like a big number and to others who have run for awhile it's not as big a feat.  For me, it was special.

I started this running journey 1,161 days ago on May 26, 2010...much like today on the trail and ironically like today without the Garmin providing me time, pace, and distance.  On that day, I was lucky to run two miles.  I went back the next day and barely pulled out another two-mile run without walking.  It was brutal!  Over the next two weeks, I only managed to run three more miles.

Then, on June 12, 2010, things finally started to click.  That day, I went out to run two miles and ended up running four miles.  I went back out the next day and ran three more miles.  And I went back again.  And again.  And again.  And I haven't stopped going back out.

Running has provided me with countless benefits.  When I started, I weighed in at 235 pounds.  Not awful for a 6-6 guy, but today's weigh-in of 198.5 pounds has me in much better shape.  I'm eating smarter (notice I didn't say less) and drinking a whole lot more water.  I really do feel like I'm in the best shape of my life.  And it doesn't hurt that for nearly half of my running journey (575 days and counting to be exact), I have been on a streak of doing at least 100 pushups and 100 situps each day to help augment the running.

In addition to the health benefits, I have made some incredible friendships.  When I started this journey, I was running solo.  However, soon after running my first race on August 28, 2010, several local runners in Mount Vernon began to get together in the mornings at 6 a.m. and the Mount Vernon Running Buddies were born.  Ever since that day, it's a rare morning that you don't find someone from that group meeting up for the daily run.  Their dedication to running is amazing!

I've also enjoyed meeting numerous runners from Central Ohio and beyond.  Run DMC is a group that corresponds primarily via social media, but people in that group have become some of my very closest friends.  I've also met great people in the midst of races who have gone on to become close friends, too, after we helped each other get through the tough times in a race.

Since this journey began three years, two months, and four days ago, I've been blessed to be able to run in some great places.  I've run on the beach of both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean as well as the Gulf of Mexico.  I've run across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  I've run the magnificent mile in Chicago, under the Arch in St. Louis, and on the track at Daytona International Speedway.  I've run a three-state 5K with a mile at three different state welcome centers.  I've run three marathons (Columbus 2011, Earth Day 2012, and Last Chance for Boston 2013) and eight half marathons (Pittsburgh twice, Earth Day twice, Erie, Xenia, Cap City, and Columbus).  I've participated in two amazing relay races - Hood to Coast in 2012 and Relay Around Columbus in 2013.  And too many shorter races to even mention, yet all have been incredibly fun and provided their own enjoyment to this journey.

Running my leg at Hood to Coast
The journey has not been without its bumps in the road either.  I spent August of 2011 with limited mileage due to shin splints.  Then, about the same time in 2012, the shin splints returned and turned into stress fractures in both legs that sidelined me with only 78 total miles from August 1-October 31.  I had to learn patience through the injuries.  And I also learned the importance of cross-training both on the bike and in the pool as well as with core workouts.  The encouragement and support from other runners was unwavering and helped me immensely as I worked to heal.

As I reflect back on the past 5,000 miles, for me it's all about the journey.  It's not about any personal accolades or even the fact that I've reached this milestone.  It's about the people's lives I've been able to be a part of and the amazing times that we've had.  For those of you who I've had the pleasure of running with, THANK YOU!  For those of you I haven't met in person yet, but who have supported me from afar, THANK YOU!  YOU are what this milestone is all about because without you this journey would be pretty lonely.  I look forward to seeing all of you on the run sometime soon!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Zoom to BOOM! with COTA

Red, White, and BOOM! will light up the Columbus skyline
As we turn the calendar to another month, the summer is really starting to fly by.  When I think of July, I think of hot days, picnics, and of course...fireworks!  And in Central Ohio when you think fireworks, you definitely think Red, White, and BOOM!

Red, White, and BOOM! is billed as the largest fireworks display in Ohio and it takes place on July 3rd in downtown Columbus.  For complete information about all the activities and the schedule for the day, visit the Red, White, and BOOM! website.

This year will actually mark my first ever trip to watch Red, White, and BOOM! in person.  I've always wanted to go see it before, but the biggest reason that I didn't go was because I didn't want to fight the crowds and mess with all that traffic.

Well, thanks to COTA and it's Zoom to the BOOM! initiative I really don't have an excuse to not go any more.  For just $5.50 round-trip for adults or $2.00 for children through the age of 12, you can park in seven different locations (Crosswoods, Dublin, Gahanna, Grove City, Olentangy/Bethel, Reynoldsburg, and Westerville) and ride an express bus downtown between 5:30-8:30 p.m. and get dropped off near Huntington Park where you can show your COTA wristband and go into the ballpark for free where some of the best viewing seats for the fireworks show await you.  (For details on the Park and Ride location drop-offs, click here.)  There will also be activities at Huntington Park including entertainment by McGuffey Lane and Phil Dirt and the Dozers, face painting for kids, inflatable games, and more.  Concession stands will also be open.

Then, after the fireworks, buses will leave downtown between 10:45 p.m. and midnight from the designated Red, White and BOOM! boarding zones to head back to the seven park and ride locations.  It's that simple!!!  Not only do you get the best seat in the house to view the show, but COTA handles all the driving and stress of traffic and parking downtown.  Sure sounds like a winner to me!

You can find lots more information about this program by visiting the COTA website and the Zoom to the BOOM! specific link.  For tips on riding COTA, you can also go to this link.  And if you decide to join me in doing this on Wednesday, make sure to follow COTA on Twitter and tweet using the hashtags #COTAbus and #RWB13.  It's going to be a fun night!!!  Hope to see you at Huntington Park or while we Zoom to the BOOM!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

For the Love of Outback

Debbie and I after we met for the first time
Well, last night it finally happened.  Yes, that's right...Debbie Gibson and I finally met in real life.  For those of you who are new to the blog, you might be wondering what the big deal is.  However, there is quite the back story that you need to catch up on.  :)

See, I've been a fan of Debbie's since her teen pop sensation days of the late 1980's.  Her hit "Lost in Your Eyes" was my junior prom theme in 1989.  I've got several of her cassettes.  Yes, I may have even had a slight celebrity crush on her like a lot of my 17-year-old friends.

Fast forward to a year and a half ago.  My friends at Outback Steakhouse, who I had gotten to know through the power of Twitter, sent me 40 presents to give away in conjunction with my 40th birthday.  After giving a bunch away to friends and family and then branching out to people in the community, members of the news media, our town's mayor, and even Jungle Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo, I saved the best for last.  I was determined to try to get the final present to Debbie Gibson.  Yes, it took lots of tweets and nearly five months after my birthday to do it, but Debbie got the final present and was even nice enough to send a fun video that she filmed from the dressing room of the Tonight Show to mark the occasion.

A little over a year has passed since then.  Debbie and her publicist, Elizabeth Neff, have both been nice enough to correspond with me from time to time via Twitter.  When I noticed on Debbie's website that she would be in Ohio for a concert at the end of June, I started to think that maybe I would finally get the opportunity to meet her.  As the day of the event drew closer, I sent her a couple of messages.  Before I knew it, her production manager, Rob, was calling me on the phone and telling me what I needed to do to meet her at the concert.

I was stoked!  Despite being a big fan, I had never even seen her in concert.  And now, I was going to get to go backstage and meet her!  Was this really happening?!?

Saturday came and I made the drive to Cincinnati through lots of rain.  I was worried that maybe the concert, which was outdoors, would get canceled.  However, the rain stopped about the time that I arrived and before I knew it the time had come to meet Rob and go see her.

I don't know about you, but too often we put celebrities on pedestals as better than everyone else.  However, whatever expectations I had for meeting Debbie quickly vanished the moment I walked in her dressing room with Rob.

As soon as she saw me, she gave me a big hug and immediately acted like I was a long lost friend she had known forever.  We talked and laughed.  Next thing I knew, I realized that it was just Debbie and I hanging out and chatting as Rob had disappeared to take care of some things.  Seriously, could it have been a cooler experience.  What could have been intimidating was not because of how kind she was by going out of her way to make me feel special.  She is a very genuine person and it was really easy to talk to her.

I left the dressing room and waited outside while she made last-minute preparations for her show.  I was able to stand on stage and watch the whole performance.  It was great!  She sang lots of her old songs ("Shake Your Love", "Lost in Your Eyes", "Only in My Dreams", "Electric Youth", and "Foolish Beat",  and even a tribute medley of songs by other artists that she enjoyed back in the day.  Debbie is definitely a performer and did a great job vocally as well as interacting and connecting with the crowd.  And she has endless energy, too.  She even rolled with the punches when a stray dog got loose on stage and she led the crowd in "Who Let the Dogs Out".  She also didn't miss a beat during her rendition of "Lost in Your Eyes" when she had to whack a mosquito who had landed on her arm mid-song.
Debbie heading out to the stage to get the concert started
I had so much fun throughout the concert as she would came on and off stage walking right past me.  Before the first song, I gave her a fist bump.  I had no idea what the protocol was or what I should do.  Guess that came from working with student-athletes every day.  LOL  I also had fun chatting with Rob and her two dancers, Eddie and Buddy.  Everyone was just incredibly cordial and fun.

When the concert ended, I had the chance to talk to Debbie for a couple more minutes before she headed off to meet her fans and sign autographs at the merchandise tent.  She even paused long enough to record a quick message with me for our mutual friends at Outback.  Probably the most impressive thing for me all night was being about 45 minutes into my three-hour drive home and getting a message from her saying that she enjoyed meeting me finally.  Seriously, Debbie, you are the best!

Well, it's been a little over 24 hours now since the fun night and I'm still buzzing over how much fun it was.  We may never cross paths again (although I'm really going to push Outback to let us both be in a commercial 'cause Debbie may be a bigger fan of theirs than I am and that's saying something), but for one night she was kind enough to take the time to get to know me a little better while allowing me a glimpse into what life is like for her.  What a cool thing to do!

Thanks, Debbie, for a fun-filled evening.  Thanks, Outback, for helping to connect me with someone I know can call a friend.  And thanks, Twitter, for once again showing me that anything is possible if you work at being yourself to establish a relationship with someone else.  I can't wait to see what will happen next.

Debbie and I after the concert

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What an Oz-some Night....The Return of Wicked

Glinda and Elphaba
Last night, I had the opportunity to take the family to see the Broadway show Wicked at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus.  This was my third time to see it and it seems to get better each time!

The story is basically a prequel to the story of the Wizard of Oz and attempts to explain what all is going on when Dorothy arrives.  However, it's a story like you've never heard with lots of plot twists and turns that you never expected.

The show starts by showing how Glinda, the Good Witch, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, met in school.  Like any relationship between strong personalities, their story has its ups and downs, but after a rocky start as rivals they become friends.

Jenn Gambatese, an Ohio native, stars as Glinda and does a great job of portraying the self-absorbed blonde with great vocal range and a flair for the overly dramatic.  She has great comedic timing and provides plenty of laughs with her antics.

The star of the show is Alison Luff, who has only been portraying Elphaba for just over a month since joining the team.  While she may not have been 'greenified' for very long, she pulls off the performance with aplomb.  Her vocal skills were so outstanding that my oldest daughter leaned over to me at one point and said "Dad, she sings better than the Elphaba on the (original cast recording) CD."  That's pretty high praise.  She also did a great job of portraying the misunderstood girl who grew up to wear the label of Wicked Witch.  Of the three different performers I've seen portray the Elphaba character, she was definitely the best.  The young woman has some serious pipes and had the best rendition of "Defying Gravity" that I've heard.

Curt Hansen was strong in his role as Fiyero, the love interest of both of the main characters as well as some of the swooning women in the packed house.  He also nailed his songs including his duet with Luff on "As Long As You're Mine", which is my personal favorite song in the show.

Fiyero and Elphaba singing "As Long As You're Mine"
 Kim Zimmer as Madame Morrible and John Davidson as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz both brought plenty of experience on stage and television to the show and did a good job in their roles.  The rest of the cast was also outstanding and never missed a beat.

This show will be in Columbus until June 23.  If you have never seen it, it's a three-hour journey that will have you on the edge of your seat and ready to cheer as the cast puts on what I personally feel is the most enjoyable Broadway show there is.  For more information on purchasing tickets or even a shot to get great seats for cheap through the nightly Wicked lottery, visit the CAPA website at:

How much do I like this show?  I would go to the performance each night if my schedule and bank account would allow it.  In fact, I need to see if there is a way to volunteer to be an usher because it would be worth it just to hear the show each night.  It's that good!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Let the Healing Begin

It was just a couple of hours ago that I posted my thoughts about what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  It was a struggle to find the words, but I knew that I needed to in order to begin my own process of moving forward from this tragedy.

Late in the afternoon, I saw a posting on Facebook that runners everywhere were being encouraged to meet at the nearest high school track tonight at 9 p.m. and run one mile for Boston.  I shared the post among my local running group, the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, and hoped that the stormy weather would be done in time for me to participate.

Little did I know just how therapeutic one mile could be.  It was dark and wet when we arrived at the high school track, but the rain had stopped.  We all worked our way on to the track and the 10 of us gathered at the starting line.  John Hofferberth, who is busy this week with all the final details for the Earth Day Challenge half marathon, said a couple of words and we took off.

I'm not used to not having a plan for my run.  I'm also not used to just running a mile.  I knew that I didn't want to go all out, but I also knew that I wanted to go hard enough that I was working at it.  I thought about the victims and their families as I went around the oval.  I didn't look at my watch.  I knew that I was moving at a good clip, but it wasn't about that.  I ended up doing five loops of the track instead of four because it just felt right.

When everyone had finished, we stopped for a moment and chatted as a group.  We didn't all know each other before the event that only lasted about 10 minutes.  But what I posted earlier today about running bringing people together was true as we all interacted like old friends.  We talked about a few upcoming local events and one person shared how she had just started running again and had already run for two hours on the treadmill before coming to the track as she wanted to really start working hard to improve her fitness.  Another person ran three miles barefoot to the track and then ran home afterwards.  For me, it was the first time since August 3, 2011 that I had run on that track as I remember vividly leaving that day with really bad shin splints from pushing too much speed work.  This time around I left with a great sense of pride in my running family as my mile felt like I was walking on air.

It may have only been one mile tonight, but it was many steps in the right direction towards the healing process for all of us in the running community and I'm so thankful that I was there.

No Words....

Ashley and I at the 2012 Cap City Quarter
Yesterday was a perfect day to run.  An ideal race day, especially for a marathon.  And after the extreme heat at last year's event, the 117th Boston Marathon really could not have asked for a better day.

When I started running nearly four years ago, I had no plans or goals for being a runner other than I needed to lose a little weight and stay active.  After a few months of just solitary running on the local bike path, I signed up for a four-mile charity race to benefit our local hospital.  As the result of that race, I was hooked on both racing and interacting with the amazing running community.  Along with a couple of friends, we started a local running group, the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, and the running and relationships have just blossomed.

As my running continued, I began to push myself to try longer distance races.  I did the 2010 Columbus half marathon.  Then, the 2011 Columbus marathon.  While my times weren't incredibly fast, they were good enough that I really felt like if I pushed myself, stayed injury-free, and got a little lucky that some day I could earn my way to Boston with a qualifying time (BQ).

The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle for a runner...the holy grail of running.  You have to post a pretty fast time based on your age and gender to earn the right to enter or there are also a limited number of spots for people who raise significant money for one of the official charities of the event.  Either way, it's not an easy task.

Yesterday was a day that so many runners had been dreaming about...some for their whole running careers.  It was their day to run Boston!  I personally had six friends running in the race and for four of them it was their first time.  For three of them, they had tried and tried and tried to qualify and finally had.  All their hard work had paid off and they were set to toe the starting line of the 26.2-mile journey!  I signed up to get text alerts on their progress and pulled up the live stream of the race on the internet.  I was hundreds of miles away, but I too was caught up in the excitement that is the Boston Marathon.

The push cart/wheelchair division started and then the elite women's race followed around 9:30 a.m.  Then, the men's elite runners were off at 10 a.m. followed by the rest of the throng of 27,000+ runners.  The journey had begun!  I was enjoying having the live stream of the event on in the background in my office while I got work done.  Then, when it came time for me to teach the Sports Information class that I teach, we watched the race as a class and discussed various aspects of the event from a media standpoint, from a fan standpoint, and from a participant standpoint.  We got to see the women's finish and then the men's finish.  The class was really into it even though most of them had no experience at all with running and especially marathon races.

I went to lunch and then worked on some things in my office.  My friends begin to finish and I began to get their text alerts.  One by one, they accomplished their goal of crossing that finish line.  First Nate, then Jace, and then Brandon.  Time ticked on and some more updates came.  Soon I saw that Deb, Carrie and Carla had all finished.  I was proud of my friends for pushing themselves to do it.  Some had battled injuries even getting to the starting line.  But they all did it!

I turned my attention back to my work.  All of sudden a message popped up about an explosion in Boston.  Everything else just stopped for me.  My oldest daughter, who is 11, was sitting in my office as we began to watch the news unfold.  We were in utter shock.  My heart was breaking.  It felt like the day when my daughter was just a month old and I held her in my arms while I watched the 9/11 attacks take place on my TV screen.  It was all just surreal.  But this time, I had a personal connection.  I had friends who were right there!  And I mean right there as Carla, Deb, and Carrie had just finished minutes before the bombs went off.

I immediately got on my phone and started trying to find out what I could about each of them.  Thanks to social media and our running group, we quickly heard that Deb and Carrie were ok.  I was able to track down Brandon, Nate, and Jace and they were already away from the scene.  I finally heard that Carla was ok, too.  I was incredibly thankful that they were all safe and sound.

However, that didn't take away the huge ache that I continue feeling in my heart for the people who are suffering.  People I don't know and probably never will.  I've watched other national tragedies and natural disasters take place and felt for the people involved.  But this time it was different.  It was my family...the running family.  And one of the things that was hurting me the most was that it was the spectators who took the brunt of the explosions.  They were cheering on their loved ones.  Showing support.  Like they had done for months leading up to the race.  It's probably the most often overlooked part of the sport of running and definitely the part that doesn't get enough thanks.  Wives, husbands, kids, extended families, best friends...they all pick up the slack to allow us time to run, listen to our countless stories and moans about our injuries, and continue to cheer us on and love us in spite of it.  Today they were the target.  And they never stood a chance.

The running community is one of the tightest, most caring groups of people you could ever belong to.  If you visit any city small or large, you can instantly strike up a friendship just passing a fellow runner and joining in on their journey.  Runners come in all shapes and sizes and all paces.  But we root for each other.  And we all have the common goal of crossing that finish line.  Some times we are out for a PR.  Other times we are out there to pace others.  And other times we are out there just to enjoy the journey.  But we keep getting out there and we keep cheering each other on.

Yesterday was a perfect day to run.  However, we live in a very imperfect world where people do evil, hurtful things to innocent strangers.  It's incomprehensible.  And it takes all of our resolve to not let evil win sometimes.  I had to look in my eight-year-old daughter's eyes last night and assure her that it was ok for her dad to go to his next race this Sunday.  I can't even begin to comprehend the grief of the dad who lost his eight-year-old son in yesterday's tragedy.  I had a long talk with my older daughter about the upcoming Cap City quarter marathon as we plan to run it together in three weeks for the second year in a row while her mom does the half marathon.  She was worried about running it and worried about her mom since she would be running by herself.  I told her that we can't live in fear or it allows the bad people to win.

While Boston and the entire running community and our nation mourns the events of what happened yesterday, we WILL keep running and we will help each other along the journey.  And my hope is that I will be there at the starting line when next year's Boston Marathon gets under way.  In the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with the people who have suffered so very much.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And the Winner is..........

Patrick Neville - 2013 Champion
Congratulations to Patrick Neville...the overall winner of this year's Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse!  Patrick was one of only two people out of 75 in the contest to have Louisville playing Michigan for the NCAA national title and he successfully predicted that the Cardinals would be the winner which meant that he'll snag the coveted Outback Steakhouse gift certificate as he ran away from the competition with 1370 points.

Ryan Workman and Joe Rinehart tied for second place behind Patrick with 1200 points each as they will both also snag a Bloomin' Onion thanks to the generosity of Outback, who allowed me to pick a few extra winners above and beyond what we originally agreed to.  (Really that's how they always operate....exceeding expectations at every turn!)

Patrick Neville's winning bracket
Additional Bloomin' Onion winners as selected by me are: Brian Vinson, who finished in third place with 1160 points, Mike Schreiber, who was one of only two people to have picked Michigan to win it all, Rob Oller, who only got 18 of the first 32 picks right but still made it all the way to a tie for fifth place for the entry with the biggest comeback, and James Mummert because he finished dead last and there are no losers among my friends.

One other winner was Greg Rhoads, who along with Mike had picked Michigan to win the national title, as he tied with Patrick by getting both Final Four winners correct on Saturday.

Thanks again to my 75 friends who jumped in and played.  Some have done it every year and for some this was the first time you ever filled out a bracket.  Let me know if you enjoyed it.  And, make sure to drop Outback a thanks on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Down to the Final Four

Well, the second week of the NCAA men's basketball tournament provided more drama, upsets, and buzzer beaters as well as new winners and leaders in the fourth annual Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse.

On the first day of the Sweet Sixteen last Thursday, 11 of the 75 people correctly picked two of the eight winners while two of the group's predicted champions went down with losses by Indiana and Miami (Fla.).  The Indiana loss affected the most brackets as 21 of the 75 people in the contest had them winning the whole thing with a good portion of the remaining people having them in the championship game.  Thursday's winner of the Bloomin' Onion courtesy of Outback is Darren Mahan, who vaulted into a tie for the top spot with Nate Okuley in the overall standings.

The second day of the Sweet Sixteen saw another predicted champion go down in Kansas and also saw Nate's run atop the leaderboard finally come to an end.  There were 14 people in our contest who correctly picked three of the eight winners right.  Friday's Bloomin' Onion winner is Jace Wolford, who can use it for fuel when he runs the Boston Marathon in a little over a week, as he moved into a tie for the top spot overall with Ryan Workman, who continues to lurk as a possible winner of the overall grand prize.

Darren Mahan and Jace Wolford
On Saturday, the Elite Eight got under way and only two people out of 75 got even one of the four games picked correctly with George Hartz and Mike Schreiber each picking one winner.  Ohio State got knocked out of the tournament and with the loss there were 16 more contestants who lost their eventual predicted champion.  George took over the top spot in the contest with his one correct pick, so that earned him the coveted Bloomin' Onion for the day.

On Sunday, the Elite Eight wrapped up with six people correctly picking two of the four winners.  My bracket officially went in the dumpster with Duke's loss, but I wasn't the only one as now 33 of the 75 people have officially been eliminated from title contention with no more possible points remaining from their picks.  Eric Smith claimed the Bloomin' Onion for the day as he moved to the top of the leaderboard, but that reign will be short-lived unless Wichita State and Syracuse both win on Saturday as he has no possible points remaining either.  Patrick Neville is just 10 points behind hoping for a Louisville national championship to add a steak dinner to the Bloomin' Onion he already won.

George Hartz and Eric Smith
The action will resume on Saturday when Michigan takes on Syracuse and Wichita State tries to shock Louisville.  Very few people nationally picked this improbable Final Four, but here's hoping for two more close games and then a lot of shining moments in the championship game on Monday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heading to the Sweet Sixteen

Well, the Sweet Sixteen will start this evening with four games on tap as we start the second week of March Madness.  How is your bracket faring these days?  I'm in the middle of the pack tied for 48th place out of 75 people in the Six Degrees of MVNUSID contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse.

The two days of the round of 32 last Saturday and Sunday saw lots more excitement with more upsets and now three teams who had been picked as eventual champions sent home in Georgetown, Memphis, and Gonzaga.  On Saturday, nine people correctly picked six of the eight winners and to choose the Bloomin' Onion winner I went with the person who got the most correct in a row and that is my twitter pal, Ali Schwanke, who went 6-for-6 on the day before finally stumbling.  It helped her jump way up in the standings.  Then, on Sunday, one person, the always entertaining Patrick Neville, correctly picked seven of the eight results to jump from 18th place all the way up to fourth.

Ali Schwanke and Patrick Neville were the round of 32 winners
Nate Okuley, who at one point got as high in the ESPN national bracket contest as 125th, continues to lead in the overall race with 490 points although he will be taking a few hits in the next couple of rounds as he already lost some of predictions.  Ryan Workman, one of my sports information friends, is right on his heels with 480 points just waiting for him to stumble.  The two of them have different champions picked, so it will get interesting to see what happens as the games continue.

Here's hoping that the excitement of the tournament continues with more great games and buzzer beaters.  Good luck!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

And Then There Were 32....

Matt Schreiber
With only four upsets on Thursday in the first big day of March Madness, we should have all known that the upsets would be more plentiful on the second day and that's what happened as Freaky Friday ensued to shake up the Six Degrees of MVNUSID bracket contest.  Six upsets took place in all with five of them being by double digit seeds including No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast shocking No. 2 Georgetown, No. 13 LaSalle knocking off No. 4 Kansas State, No. 12 Ole Miss sending No. 5 Wisconsin packing, No. 11 Minnesota bouncing the Bruins of No. 6 UCLA, No. 10 Iowa State ending the luck of the Irish by downing No. 7 Notre Dame, and No. 9 Temple getting past No. 8 North Carolina State.

First day winner Nate Okuley continued to do well as he followed up Thursday's 14-for-16 performance by going 13-for-16 on Friday to maintain a 20-point lead on the nearest competitor, Ryan Halley, who has been in second place both days.  However, Nate's bracket took a hit with the losses by Georgetown and Wisconsin as he had them in the Final Four and Elite Eight respectively.

Five other people joined Nate in correctly picking 13 of the 16 games on Friday.  Of the six people, Matt Schreiber, one of my running friends, has the most possible points remaining as he jumped from 27th to third place in the standings.  So, Matt is the Day 2 winner of the free Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion.

Matt Schreiber's Bracket
I managed to hold steady in the standings despite just going 11-for-16 on Friday.  It was good enough to move me from 12th place to seventh place as the standings shifted a bunch.  And interestingly enough, I actually have the most possible points remaining of anyone in the contest with 1,560.  That won't happen, but it's fun to speculate while I can.

The round of 32 action is tipping off and things should continue to get interesting as more upsets are bound to happen.  We already had one person lose their predicted eventual champion yesterday when Georgetown went down, and I'm guessing some others will follow the way this crazy season has gone.  Enjoy the ride!  And enjoy some Outback Steakhouse!  :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

First Day of March Madness is in the Books!

Nate Okuley
Well, the first day of March Madness is in the books!  There were a couple of upsets and some close games, but all in all things went pretty much as planned with only two games that wrecked much havoc on the brackets as No. 14 seed Harvard upset No. 3 seed New Mexico and No. 12 seed Cal knocked off #5 seed UNLV.  No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Wichita State beating No. 8 Pitt were the other two upsets although most people didn't have Oklahoma State or Pitt going much farther.

Greg Rhoads, Justin Ross, Bruce Petersen, and Hannah Gibbs went the longest out of the 75 people in the Six Degrees of MVNUSID contest with a perfect bracket as they each survived the first 11 games before the UNLV loss knocked them all out of the ranks of the unbeaten.  My only loss through the first 12 games was when No. 14 seed Davidson blew a nine-point lead in the final 5:23 to lose 59-58 to No. 3 Marquette as I stood at 11-1 as well.

The final four games of the night proved to separate the field a little as when all the dust settled one person stood alone at the top after day one - Nate Okuley.  Nate is one of my former student workers and a great guy and he went 14-2 on day one with his only blemishes being the losses by Pitt and New Mexico.  He correctly picked the other two upsets and then went with the higher seeds the rest of the way.  He has a 10-point lead on 10 other people who each went 13-3.  I'm in the next group tied for 12th after going 12-4.

Nate's Bracket

No one lost their eventual champion on the first day although one person did have New Mexico playing in the final game.  Of the 75 people, 23 picked overall top seed Louisville to claim the title, 21 went with Indiana, and 16 chose Ohio State.  I'm one of only two people to have picked Duke.

My guess is that things will get a little more interesting as the action tips off today on the second day of action with 16 more games on tap.  It will be interesting to see how things stand at the end of the day.  Enjoy!

A big thanks to Outback Steakhouse for sponsoring the bracket.  Nate will be enjoying a free Bloomin' Onion to celebrate his successful day one.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's March Madness Time, Baby!

It's that time of year once again for the annual Six Degrees of MVNUSID men's college basketball March Madness bracket contest!  You can check out the results from the inaugural event, the second year, and then last year when Jim Clark beat out 68 other people to grab the coveted Outback Steakhouse gift certificate and bragging rights for the year.

March Madness is a great time of year for college hoops junkies and even the casual fan. One of the best ways to follow the action is to fill out a bracket and then root for your picks to advance. Go the safe route and pick all the higher seeds or be the one person to take an underdog Cinderella team to the big dance. Either way, it's lots of fun to participate and bragging rights as well as some good food in this case are up for grabs.

That's where my contest comes in. For the fourth straight year, my contest is free to enter so there is no excuse not to get on board. The overall winner will receive a $20 gift certificate courtesy of my friends at Outback Steakhouse. And, they have been gracious enough to throw in free Bloomin' Onion cards for the winner of each round, too. So, the steaks (er...stakes) are high and you need to sign up today!!!

To enter, just follow this link to the private group that I have set up for my friends on ESPN's site. The group name is 6 Degrees of MVNUSID if you need to search for it and the password is MVNUSID. (If you need the back story on my history with Outback, you can read it here.  They've also helped me celebrate my last two birthdays in style - 40 and 41 - if you want to click on those links.  I would also encourage you to follow them on Twitter at @Outback.)

I'll look forward to having you join in on the fun. Your entry (only one per person) must be submitted before the first game tips off on Thursday around noon ET. The First Four games are not picked in this contest.

Monday, February 25, 2013

From DL to BQ

Six months ago, I was a broken runner.  On August 24, I completed my first of what was supposed to be three legs at the incredible Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon and had to be helped to the van knowing that I wouldn't run again any time soon due to the excruciating pain in both legs.  I was crushed and beaten down.  Running was a passion for me and it had been taken from me.  I was diagnosed with stress fractures in both legs and was sidelined indefinitely.

October rolled around and I still wasn't running, but my legs were slowly starting to feel better.  When it came time for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon, I supported several friends there and ended up getting some running in and knew that maybe things were finally getting better.  Then, in November, I slowly started back in a return to running program prescribed by Dr. Darrin Bright.  There were times that I wanted to just push things forward with this plan that called for a lot of walking, but I also knew that I didn't want to feel that pain again and so I was patient.

During this time, I also took up swimming as a way to stay in shape and not use my legs.  By no means am I even an average swimmer and my technique is awful, but I still manage to get a good workout in each time and I also feel stronger because of it.  I also got lots of cycling in as another way to not have impact on the legs.

When I was finally released from the return to running program by Dr. Bright, I decided to start training for the Xenia marathon in April.  I asked my friend, Cindy Warner, for help with my plan because she had successfully used one to PR both the Erie half marathon and the Columbus full marathon this past fall.  She came up with one from the Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon that seemed to fit me pretty well and also took into account my propensity for over-training and injury.  She agreed to help hold me accountable with following the plan and so the journey began.

The first eight weeks of the plan went really well.  During that time, I made my first comeback race at the First on the First 5K in Westerville.  Since I hadn't raced in a long time, I had no idea what I was capable of.  I just went out and pushed hard and then held on at the end to finish with a 19:52 - just five seconds off my PR.  I was ecstatic.

I continued to follow the plan with solid outdoor runs and some great indoor track workouts.  Doing eight loops for a mile on the indoor track got me thinking about the Last Chance for Boston races that were coming up in February as the participants would keep circling a one-mile loop to reach their desired distance.  To some people, the thought of 26 loops (plus a .20 start) seems like pure mental torture, but after doing an 11-mile indoor track workout or 88 loops I started to believe that it might be something that I could handle.  During one of our Saturday group runs, I asked Cindy what she thought about that race.  We discussed my history of always running a great first 20-mile training run as I prepared for a marathon and my ability to go for a long distance without necessarily training by the book for it.  I am also a social runner and the thought of having people constantly around me on the loop made that a draw for me.  And, a loop course would also be the easiest type of course to get support on.  The only downsides we could come up with were that I would be under-trained and the possibility of getting injured without reaching my goal and then being forced to miss the Xenia race.

With all the information digested, I also got the feedback of a few friends who had run the race before.  Both Teri Pokosh and Ken Varian gave it good reviews and encouraged me to do it.  So, I signed up.  I decided that I would treat the race as a 20-mile training run and then just see what I had left.  The goal would be to finish the race the best way I could, but if there were any issues I would stop and not risk jeopardizing the Xenia race.  Cindy helped me adjust my training plan as I increased my long run mileage to a peak of 17 miles two weeks ago, and then I tapered this past week.  I also got another shot of confidence a week before Last Chance when I beat my goal of a 7:00 pace at the hilly Granville Winter Run 7.5-miler by finishing in 51:44 (6:50 pace) and shockingly won a race for the first time ever!

That set the stage for race weekend.  I went down on Saturday afternoon to pick up my packet and race bib.  I decided to walk the one-mile loop while I was there and get a feel for what the course would be.  One other huge aspect to my preparation for this event and for improving my training has been reading the book "Unleash the Champion" by Denny Dicke.  He teaches all kinds of techniques to make you mentally tougher and to help you push the negative thoughts out when you run as a way to have your best performance.  I'm not a huge fan of self-help type of books, but I connected with this one and followed a lot of them.  I wrote out 3:14:30 as a goal time on a piece of paper and the words "Determined", "Tenacious", and "Unstoppable" and hung them on the mirror in my bathroom to stare at every day.  I would repeat those words on training runs when things got tough.  I would visualize me finishing my race with the goal time that I wanted.  I bought into it and my performance began to improve.  The final aspect for me was to visit the actual course and imagine myself having the race that I wanted to have and I was able to do that less than 24 hours before I started the actual event.

On Sunday, February 24, I was up bright and early to knock out my core work that includes 100 situps and 100 pushups that I've done every day now for over a year.  Then, I was off to the race.  I met up with Cindy on the way as she was going to serve as my support for the day, hand me water and fuel when necessary, and try to help keep me on track and help me make a good decision about whether to continue on or not when the time came as I approached the 20-mile mark.  My pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon needed to be a 7:25 per mile or a 3:14:59 overall finish time.  My previous best marathon finish in two attempts was a 3:41:39 at the Earth Day Challenge last spring.  My goal for Sunday's race was to start out at a 7:20 pace and just keep knocking them off at that clip for as long as I could.

We lined up at the starting line at 8 a.m., the horn sounded, and we were off!  Since the clock started on the horn, I had lined up right in the front and was among the first 10 people to head out.  A couple of faster guys took an early lead with a guy in an orange Boston Marathon jacket sprinting to the front.  I figured if he had the jacket and he seemed to be near my age that he would be a good guy to keep in my sights as I ran the loops.  I tried to settle into an easy pace and tried not to let the excitement of the start get me going too fast.  We did the first .20 and then crossed the spot that would eventually be the finish line when we passed 26 more times.  When I finished the first mile, I realized that I had gotten off to a faster start than I planned to as I posted a 6:57.  I dialed it back for Mile 2 to a 7:03, but then hit a 6:58 for Mile 3.  Right as I hit the Mile 3 mark, I caught up with my friend, Melanie Kopp, who was doing the half and trying to PR.  I had told her prior to the race that I would see her at Mile 3 and Mile 12.  I met my goal for the first part of that.

I managed to back the pace down a bit for the next two miles with a 7:15 and a 7:13.  As I approached Cindy at Mile 6 after a 7:03 lap, I had finished my first water bottle and told her that I would take a Gatorade G1 pouch on the next lap to fuel.  I grabbed it after posting a 7:08 lap for Mile 7 and proceeded to drink it through the next two laps at 7:08 and 7:12.  I hit Mile 10 at a 7:06 pace and thought to myself that I was now halfway done with my 20-mile training run.  Mile 11 came and went in 7:12 and then it was time to see if I would catch up to Melanie on Mile 12.  Once again, I caught her right at the mile marker as I finished that lap in 7:11.  I ran alongside her momentarily and told her how well she was doing and that she had lots of time in the bank to PR the half.  I thanked her for pushing so hard to make me go hard in my race and told her I was proud of her and to finish strong and then I took off again.

As I hit Mile 13 in 7:18, I realized that I had run the first half in under 1:34, which would be a new half marathon PR for me by nearly a minute.  My goal coming into the race was to be consistent each mile and hit the halfway point at 1:37.  I didn't dwell on this potential time gain because I knew that the tradeoff could very well be a big crash waiting for me late in the race.  I focused on my positive mental training that I had been doing and tried to settle in for the second half of the journey.

I continued to try to keep the pace as close to 7:20 as I could.  Miles 14 through 20 went by like clockwork in 7:20, 7:16, 7:13, 7:12, 7:20, 7:15, and 7:18.  Somewhere during the middle teen miles, I passed the guy in the Boston jacket and I vowed to not let him pass me back.  By the time I crossed the finish line, I had actually lapped him as his quick start came back to haunt him.

As I approached Cindy after Mile 20, I commented to her that the training run was done and now it was time for the icing on the cake.  She had been good about making me drink part of another bottle of water around Mile 13 and then a second G1 pouch at Mile 16.  My stomach was starting to give me fits, but it would have definitely been worse if I hadn't done the fueling even though I didn't want to.  Big thanks to Cindy for being stern about this and keeping me from derailing that part of my plan like I had in my previous two marathons.

As I knocked out Miles 21 and 22, I knew that I was starting to fade slightly but I managed to keep the pace at 7:28 and 7:25.  I'm not a big Eminem fan, but his song "Lose Yourself" came on at this point and it was the perfect song as I knew that I was now just a little over four miles away from reaching a huge goal.  I knew that I needed to dig down deep and push through the stomach pain and tired legs that I had going on and finish out what I started.  Melanie had also joined Cindy in cheering me on and they were doing a great job of pushing me towards the finish even though I could tell by their faces that they were just as nervous as I was that it was going to be really close as they could also tell that I was starting to slow down.  I finished Mile 23 in 7:38 and I was starting to calculate in my head how much cushion I had for the final three-plus miles as I was really starting to hurt.  It was at this point that Cindy yelled at me that I needed to make it through the next mile and that she would jump in and try to run me in the final two.

Mile 24 seemed like it took forever.  The crowd of runners had really thinned out as most of the half marathoners were done and some of the full marathoners were starting to really show signs of the wear and tear that the distance can take on one's body as I saw numerous ones stretching on the side of the course.  I finally got to the point that I could see Cindy and Melanie again and I was thankful to know that I would have company for the final two laps.  Mile 24 took 8:01.

As nice as it was to get someone to run with me for Mile 25, it was also my worst mile of the whole race.  My stomach was really revolting at this point and I nearly come to a screeching halt around the first turn as I dry heaved.  Cindy was in drill sergeant mode because she knew I didn't have much margin for error (although what she didn't know but I did was that I had two more minutes than she thought because she was looking at the half marathon clock which started two minutes before the full marathon).  She told me that I just needed to keep pushing through and that if I had to throw up to just do it all over myself and keep moving.  And here I thought she was my friend.  LOL  I somehow managed to make it through that mile in 8:16.

Then, it was finally time for the last lap plus the final .20.  Cindy thought I had roughly 10 minutes to get it done while I really had more like 12 minutes.  She kept encouraging me (insert barking orders at me) to stay after it.  (In fairness, while at the time I was thinking it was harsh, she was doing the right thing.  She knew that if I came that close and missed my goal that I would be not only sore from the running but mentally devastated.)  I manged to pick up the pace to an 8:07 for that lap.  Then, I could see the finish and I kicked things into gear to make sure that I got there in time.  I covered the final .20 at a 7:36 pace and hit a 5:46 pace going to the finish - which was my fastest pace during the entire race.  Once I saw the clock and knew that I was going to meet my goal, I started to ease up just a bit so I wouldn't totally collapse when I crossed the finish line.  I HAD DONE IT!!!! 3:13:33!!!  A new PR by 28:06 AND a Boston qualifying time!  :)  I was even more surprised when the person at the finish line handed me a plaque and said that I had won the 40-49 age group.  I later found out that I finished 8th in the entire race.

As Cindy and Melanie each grabbed an arm and helped me stumble and stagger into the area for post-race food, I began to tell them about the other people who had helped me on the course.  There was a guy who stood near Cindy who gave me a high five for at least the first 14 laps and then later I saw him in the race as a relay participant.  There was the girl on the exact opposite side of the course who gave me a high five through each of the first 16 laps and then apologized that she had to leave.  Finally, there was the heavy-set 20-something man who was walking the half marathon.  I think I passed him 12 times and each time I told him how much he was inspiring me to keep pushing on.  I'm sure it was just as hard if not harder for him to do his race as it was for me to do mine.  It was nice for me to be able to reiterate that thanks again to him in the finish area as he came in just after I did.  All of these things are the kind of things that make me enjoy doing these kind of events.

After changing into dry clothes and drinking some water, it was time to head to Outback Steakhouse for something I had been waiting three years for - Aussie cheese fries!!!  I hadn't had a tater tot, french fry, or hash brown during that span as I tried to use that as motivation for me to help push towards this goal of a BQ.  The Bethel Road Outback was right by the race and since I have a huge history with Chris, the owner, and the great folks there it was a no-brainer to stop.  The cheese fries were SOOOOO GOOD!  And to top it off, Chris paid for my meal!  Wow!

On the way home, the magnitude of what I had accomplished began to finally hit me as I started to get phone calls, text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts from my family and friends as they began to hear about what had happened.  I have the best people in my life...I really do.  Several people said they wished they would have known about this so they could have been there to cheer me on and I know that my family wanted to all be there.  But, I kept it quiet and low key because I didn't want to put any pressure on myself as I was trying my best to just think of this as a training run and that proved to be the right choice.  I'm extremely thankful for all the love and support of so many great people!  I am truly blessed!