Nov 102013

Bibbed up and ready to go. I’m surprised you can’t see us shivering.

Today was probably my last running race of the year, and one of the most memorable. We were in Columbus for the Ohio State Four Miler, an inaugural event benefiting the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund For Cancer Research. The big draw for this race was that it finished in The ‘Shoe, at the fifty-yard line of Ohio Stadium!

For me, it was less of a race and more of a fun run, because I was there primarily to support Katie, as she tackled her longest race distance to date. My recurring hip injury that ended my chances at a fourth consecutive PR at my last half marathon means that I haven’t trained much. I wouldn’t be able to put in my best effort without risk of aggravating the injury, so it was better for me to stay with Katie, and help her through her race however I could.

The forecast for the morning called for breaking clouds and cool temperatures, but neglected to mention the wind. It whipped through the buildings of the OSU campus and froze just about everybody. We arrived an hour before the start, and spent most of it huddling together behind whatever wind break we could find, trying in vain to stay warm.

This being an inaugural event, it was not without logistical problems. There was no race-day packet pickup, which is a huge oversight for a race guaranteed to draw a lot of attention from out of town. Had I not already been in Columbus on unrelated business earlier in the week, this could have been a bigger problem for us. Then there was the start, which simply was never designed to accommodate the sellout crowd of ten thousand runners and walkers. For some incomprehensible reason, the race organizers decided to do a wave start, perhaps with the intention of creating some space between the groups of people and mitigate the traffic. But it didn’t work at all, and the result was that we stood around for a half hour after the first wave went off, waiting on our turn, and got to spend most of the race weaving in and out of people anyway.


Our “i” seems less than enthusiastic.

Growing pains aside, the excitement in the mob in the start corral was undeniable. It was a very different race from your local, garden-variety 5k, and the profile and size of the event was impressive. Members of the OSU football team and staff were present, including Brutus, both to help marshal the event and to run in it!

Katie made the reasonable decision to start in a conservative place in the queue, by a sign which was supposed demarcate runners with an expected pace of 11:00/mile. When it was finally our turn to start (we were the last wave), her nerves hit the firewall. She had recently completed the same distance on a treadmill, but that isn’t quite the same thing, and she was worried about how she’d do. Her concerns were the same as every runner when they approach a new race, and aren’t sure what to expect from the distance, and from themselves.

We settled into an easy jog when we finally got across the starting line, our pace regulated by the sheer volume of walkers and other traffic we had to navigate. As the mob spilled out of the bottleneck at the start onto Woody Hayes Drive, we started to make some headway, passing other runners by the dozens and finding what would become our pace. The exertion was welcome, as it started to thaw our numb and frozen feet and hands. I felt my legs warm up and start to come in, but was careful to restrain them enough to let Katie dictate our speed.

The sun started to break through the morning overcast as we finished our first mile, and I kept coaching Katie through as best I could, offering encouragement and pointing out how nice the morning was becoming. I know from training and racing together over the past few years that her mindset is everything, so the more cheerful I could keep her, the easier the run would be for her. That seemed to work well, and we cleared the first two miles before we knew it, before turning onto College Road for the zigzag back to the finish.

The third mile was the toughest for Katie, but she did the right thing, which was to dial back the pace until she was sure she could maintain it, and then just keep going. I got my phone out and started checking our distance, to keep her engaged with how much time and distance was left to go. That helped focus and reassure her, and soon we were on our last mile, and picking up speed again.


That’s my girl. Gettin’ it done.

We turned west on Woody Hayes again, headed back to the Shoe, and the finish. As the stadium came into view, the allure of the finish, and a personal victory, spurred Katie forward, and soon we were sailing past people at a solid clip. The pace quickened further when we turned alongside the stadium, and by the time we angled into the tunnel to enter the field, we were at a dead run. I couldn’t stay next to her any more, as the crowd was still too dense, and so we careened separately through the masses like a police chase through rush hour traffic. She was the very face of determination, and I that of the adoring fan, and I was doing everything I could to get back next to her before we crossed the finish.

The flood of emotion that came over her as she reached the line is all too familiar, to me. All of her struggles, and setbacks, and postponed dreams, all of the hard work, the sweat, the pain, the personal sacrifice that this whole year has embodied came over her in a rush. Once she knew she could finish, she felt nothing from her body but the insatiable desire to go faster, to get to that line. Nothing was going to stop her this time, not aching feet or painful hips or sinus infections or strained muscles. She exploded across the finish line in tears of joy and relief, and was soon sobbing on my shoulder.

I, on the other hand, was beaming. I’ve always been proud of Katie, but she really rocked it this time, and for the first time in a running event, success was never in doubt. She went out there and conquered this race, and in convincing fashion. I couldn’t be more impressed, and I can’t wait to see what next season holds for her, as she continues to train and get stronger and faster.

Being an athlete in your spare time is incredibly difficult. Juggling the schedules of work, family, your personal life and physical training sometimes leaves no time at all for relaxation. If I was the only one in the house doing it, things would be even harder. But having my wife and best friend to share in the daily struggles involved with trying to become an athlete, and then trying to become a better one, makes everything better, richer, and easier. We coach each other and learn from each other on a daily basis, and neither of us would have come as far as we have without the other.

This year, more than ever, Katie has taught me how to fight. She set a goal at the beginning this year to run a half marathon, and was on schedule to do so until injuries stalled her progress. She was forced to back down from her goal for this year, but she never used that as an excuse to quit. Her attitude through all the struggles she’s faced this year has been my own quiet inspiration. She knows to never mistake “not yet” for “no,” and that sometimes a tactical delay can lead to strategic victories. She has demonstrated the power of persistence, and has kept coming no matter how many times life has kicked her in the face. She’s never thrown up her hands in surrender to a problem, as I am so often tempted to. Watching her succeed, as I’ve been privileged to to all year, is better than any race performance I have ever turned in.

Great job, Katie. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next year.

Nov 022013
Spin those legs!

Spin those legs!

Last night with my wife left me totally impressed! No, not like that. Get your mind outta the gutter.

Friday is usually a CrossFit day for Katie, but yesterday, she just wasn’t feeling it. I had already planned to go do some hill work, so I talked her into a “Cycling WOD” on the hills over at Area B. It’s the same place I used to train for the Death March earlier this year, and I intended to do some interval training for my upcoming CX race in Columbus.

Much to my surprise, she agreed to come along. But she wasn’t done surprising me. I figured she’d do fine, chug up a few hills with some rest stops, and call it a day, leaving me alone to do the second half of the workout myself. Instead, she powered up every hill the place had to offer, only stopping once. I had expected to climb each hill twice for her single effort. That’s not a statement on her fitness, just that I have a lot more seat time this year and was on my ‘cross bike, which is far better suited for such a thing. Every time I turned around though, she was already two thirds of the way up, chugging along like a pro!

I ended up coasting down about half of each hill before turning around to chase her to the top, and that ended up being a fun way to do repeats. She never let up for the hour we were out there, and by the end was even letting off the brakes and coasting down with some real speed!

My girl has come a long way since this spring, when a 2 mile pedal around the neighborhood was quite enough for her, thanks very much. At this rate, she’ll be absolutely killing it, next year. I’ve gotta get her on a skinny-tire bike.

Oct 292013

302I’m not the only one gearing up for fall! Katie scored this cute, lightweight jacket at Target the other day. It’s the perfect cut and build for outdoor activity in the autumn chill, and as you may have noticed, she’s pretty excited about it.

Oct 122013
See? We can be civilized if we want!

See? We can be civilized if we want!

Tonight, Katie and I had the chance to do something we rarely do: get all dressed up and go to a nice dinner. We attended a formal dining out for the Order of the Musket, an award given by the enlisted members of the Ohio Air National Guard to persons who have dedicated their careers to the advocacy and welfare of the enlisted force. This year’s recipients were Major General Gregory Wayt (ret.) and Chief Master Sergeant Christopher Muncy. Before this evening, there had only been a handful of previous recipients, including former Congressman Dave Hobson, so it was a fairly big deal.

My unit was hosting the event in downtown Springfield, at Clark State’s Hollenbech Bayley Creative Arts Center. Dinner was good, the ceremony was impressive, and Chief Muncy’s turn at the podium was especially motivational and inspiring, despite my usual skepticism at such events.

But the highlight of the evening for me was seeing Katie, all dolled up for the first time in what seems like ages. Hair done up, dangly earrings, high heels and everything. We’re used to seeing each other in workout clothes or bike gear, sweating and red-faced. To be fair, I find that Katie entirely attractive, but there’s something about getting all cleaned up and going out formally that elicits a skipped heartbeat or ten. She’s very dimensional, my wife. I should make a point of taking her out like this more often.

Sep 152013
His and Hers.

His and Hers.

My wife is becoming quite the cyclist.

While we purchased her mountain bike over a year ago, she’s only recently started to put some serious miles on it. She’s becoming more confident and proficient with every ride, and her progress has been a lot of fun to watch. I’ve coaxed her into a few off-road outings this year, not all of which were entirely successful (my fault, not hers). But she’s reached the point now of being comfortable enough to try most things, so today we headed to MoMBA for her first outing there.

She did very well, as I’ve come to expect. She was cautious, as she should have been, but I was grinning the whole time as I watched her get more and more comfortable. I kept the ride short, just over 5 miles door to door, but it was enough for her to get at taste of the place, and still have fun. She was surprised that I was still having fun going so slow (for me), but any time I can introduce a new rider to the trails, I’m a happy man. So much more so when it’s my wife and best friend! I can’t wait to take her again.

Sep 072013
Not exactly white water rapids, but nice for a relaxing Saturday morning.

Not exactly white water rapids, but nice for a relaxing Saturday morning.

Some days seem to pack in so much fun that at the end of them, you’re left wondering if it was really all one day. Today was like that. It started with a canoeing/kayaking trip for an offsite for work, which was followed by a barbecue, and wrapped up with a 28 mile pedal, half in the dark, to the Italian Festa in Beavercreek and back.

I freaking love summer.

Our hero conquers the mighty, raging river...

Our hero conquers the mighty, raging river…

There was a rope swing near the end of the route, of which we took full advantage.

Bekah doing her best "Fonz Ninja"

Bekah doing her best “Fonz Ninja”

Joe doing his best "flying monkey"

Joe doing his best “flying monkey”

Jac, apparently falling from the sky.

Jac, apparently falling from the sky.

But seriously, that dude can get some elevation off of a rope swing. He had to be 30 feet over the water on a few jumps.

Not the easiest picture to take, as it turns out...

Not the easiest picture to take, as it turns out…

Our trip to the Italian Festa was an adventure in ways we never could have anticipated. We decided at the last moment to go, not wanting to spend our Saturday night at home. Then we decided to take the bikes, since we could get there almost entirely on the bike path, and I had just picked up some lights (more on them later) that I wanted to test.

The ride there was a little comical, as Katie was getting hungry and tired, and so was pedaling slower and slower as the miles went on. It’s always difficult for me to estimate that distances will be manageable for her, since there is such a gap between our relative experience, but I gambled on the overall flatness of the route and perfect weather making the round trip doable. 10 miles into our outbound leg, I was starting to think I had made a pretty big mistake.

But when we finally made it to the Festa, the absurdity of the whole thing took our minds off the work of the ride. The place was bedlam. There had to be 25,000 people jammed into a couple acres of land, with booths and music and food and drink giving the throng a feel that could only be described as, well, Italian. They were selling full-sized, glass bottles of wine, and more than a few people were staggering around with a half-empty bottle in each hand. The fact that such an ebullient gathering is even possible in this litigious and safety-obsessed age was almost as surprising as the volume and density of the crowd.

The crowd, of course, made walking our bikes around the grounds nearly impossible, and we soon found ourselves on the fringes, staring with mouths agape. We settled on getting a pizza, since it was the fastest moving line, and sat on the ground munching our dinner and people watching. The whole thing was hilarious, as was our misguided decision to try and ride bikes to an event like this. But we couldn’t have known, I suppose.

The ride home was an entirely different experience. We clicked on our lights and threaded our way through the (now weaving-drunk) crowd of pedestrians leaving the Festa, doing our best not to hit anybody and laughing the whole way. When we got back to the bike path, Katie decided she just wanted to “get it over with,” and suddenly we were blasting along at a remarkable pace for a couple of mountain bikes, enjoying the cool night air and the slightly spooky atmosphere of the inky-dark bike path.

We made it home a full 15 minutes faster than we made it out, despite having to climb the big hill back into our neighborhood, and her light running out of battery just before that. We very nearly called for a ride home, but Katie had set her mind to the task, and there’s not much that’ll get in her way once she’s done that. Heaven help the competition if she ever decides to go racing…

Sep 062013
Take two of these and call me in the morning.

Take two of these and call me in the morning.


Chunky! Too chunky, in fact.

There's something to be said for a tire that looks as good as it performs.

There’s something to be said for a tire that looks as good as it performs.

Last fall, Airborne was blowing out their Sabre 26″ hardtail mountain bikes, right around the same time I was looking to get Katie on a bike. The price was far too good to pass up, so I picked one up for her, even though it wasn’t precisely the bike she was looking for. Primarily, her rides are on the bike path or around the neighborhood, so a full-on MTB is a little bit of overkill. But I assured her that a well made hardtail would be perfectly fine for those rides, and give her the ability to tackle any of the local singletrack as well.

In the year since we’ve gotten it, she’s grown more comfortable on the bike, and now goes out for rides on her own or with my sister and niece, with increasing regularity. But she’d had quite enough of the increased pedaling effort required by the stock Kenda Kinetics, which are meant for loose gravel and mud, more than pavement.

I picked up a set of Kenda Small Block Eights to replace them, and she’s in heaven. They’re a tire that perfectly matches her requirements for the bike, having low rolling resistance, excellent traction, and enough tread to handle any of the local trails, provided that they’re dry enough.

Aug 022013

Push-ups. Very deep push-ups. And someone levitating behind me.

Today I did something that, a year ago, I would’ve sworn I’d never do.

I went to Crossfit.

So lemme get this straight...

So lemme get this straight…

My good friend Alicia has been an avid Crossfitter for years, and more recently, Katie has gotten into it. During this whole time, I’ve been one of those guys rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at the whole CrossFit movement. There are many valid objections to the way CF does things, but there’s no denying the power of the system to keep people involved, interested and, well, fit.

My objections are well founded. CF doesn’t focus on any one thing enough to make you better at it, at least not very fast. It won’t make you a good distance runner, because you don’t run enough. It won’t make you a good power lifter, because the cycles are too arbitrary and the sets too random to qualify as a useful strength-building program. It will help you lose weight, because you’ll burn a crapload of calories, but only if you also pay attention to your diet. And don’t even get me started on “kipping.” Dumbest. Thing. Ever.

To be clear, if you come straight from the couch, you will get stronger. If you were already a runner (especially one who didn’t lift at all, as many runners don’t) walking in the door, it will have something to add to your running program. Most of the WODs (workouts of the day, in CF-speak) amount to heart rate interval training, which is proven to be effective at raising your lactate threshold and cardio performance, both essential to running fast and long. But the thing that CrossFit will make you best at is CrossFit, hence the rise of the CrossFit Games, where people essentially work out, competitively. I can’t see the draw, but then I don’t understand why people like golf, either.

Which leads to another aspect of the program that generates eyerolls, and that’s the lingo. Everything in CF has an acronym, a made up name, a slang term. The founders of the program were very careful to create a club-like culture, the better to attract those who need a social aspect to their workout plans. And while there’s no denying that it’s effective, for those of us who have been doing the same movements for decades, it all seems silly and unnecessarily complicated.

"Sure, I'll do the front squats!" Wait, how do you do front squats again?

“Sure, I’ll do the front squats!” Wait, how do you do front squats again?

Oh yeah, there we go!

Oh yeah, there we go!

But watching the program more closely over the past six months or so, it’s become clear that some of my reasons for disliking CrossFit have everything to do with trying to make it something that it’s not. It isn’t a running program, or a cycling program, or even a powerlifting program. It’s CrossFit. If you can ignore the CF acolytes, who will tell you that no workout is as good as a CrossFit workout, and that it will make you better at everything from making waffles to climbing Everest, you’ll notice that CF itself makes no such claims. The coaches are there to help and instruct you in difficult movements, some of which are all but extinct in most gyms today. They’re there to challenge you physically and mentally by pushing what you thought were your limits. They believe in the ability of their program to help people reach overall fitness goals, but I have yet to hear one say that CF is an effective substitute for a focused, dedicated training program for another sport. And mostly, they want you to have fun, because that’ll keep you coming back, and longevity is the most important aspect of any training program.

What’s more, an honest appraisal of what goes on in most gyms takes the wind from the sails of many of my objections. While I’m insisting that CF won’t make you as strong as a dedicated strength training program, most people at typical gyms aren’t using such a program anyway. Or any program at all. And if they are, they aren’t as honest, or dedicated, or tenacious with it as they need to be, and so they never see the results they could have anyway. Likewise, I can’t remember the last time I went to a typical gym and saw people doing complex movements with anything resembling safe or effective form (notice I didn’t say correct… more on that difference another day). Essentially, many of my objections to CF could equally be applied to 90% of people in any gym anywhere, even those who are working with personal trainers. Come to think of it, I’ve seen/overheard some personal trainers giving some pretty questionable instruction…

Anyway, all that said, Katie’s “box” (slang for a CF gym… see what I mean?) has a social event on the first Friday of every month that they call Friday Frolics. Katie quietly inquired if I’d like to go, and I figured why not, since I had a bit of a hole in my lifting schedule anyway. Today’s Frolic was caveman-themed, but I was fresh out of loincloths, so she and I ripped the sleeves off some t-shirts and called it close enough. The workout started with an 800m run (which I started last and finished first… but I’m a runner), some dynamic stretching and plank work as a warm-up, and then we were divided into teams.

The workout itself was a several-stage team competition, and was made up of a plethora of kettle bell swings, sit-ups, lunges, pull-ups, jumping rope, and just about every type of squat there is, along with a little bit of running. It was up to the teams to divide the exercises, sets and reps between the team members to play to everyone’s strengths, so long as minimums for each member were met. All of this planning and organization took a bit to accomplish, so there was a fair amount of down time in between stages, but the stages themselves were pretty intense.

If I’m honest, I had a lot of fun. The people were all very friendly, the coaches helpful and positive, and they even fed me afterward. The whole experience reminded me of grade school gym class, where everything you did was characterized as playing, even though you were really exercising. At the end, I found myself wishing I had more time in my training schedule (and money in my bank account… CF ain’t cheap) to do it more often. But I don’t know when either of those things are going to happen, so for now at least, I’ll be relegated to dropping in once in a blue moon. Still, I’m not ashamed to say that my attitude about the program has shifted significantly over the past year, and I’m more inclined to give CrossFit a fair appraisal among the panoply of workout programs.

My team. The dude with the beard is Luke, and he is a total stud.

My team. The dude with the beard is Luke, and he is a total stud.

Jul 082013
We got hooked up on our seats! Very cool to watch the interactions at home plate through the game from this level.

For weeks, there has been a mysterious “Secret Date Night” entry on the shared calendar for my wife and I. I didn’t put it there. When the night finally arrived, I was surprised that the destination was still a mystery. See, if you know Katie, you know she’s not so good at keeping secrets. Especially when she’s excited about them. But she pulled this one off, and surprised me with tickets to a Dragons game, including vouchers for free food and hats!

It’s funny, that even though I really dislike baseball as a sport, going to a Dragons game is just good fun. The crowds are great and friendly, the facility is nice, there’s decent beer and food to be found there, and they even win a game now and again! But the best part of this evening was that my wife, who’s seen the sort of stress I’ve been under lately, took it on herself to make sure that, for just one evening, I’d slow down and relax. Thanks, sweetheart. You can take me out to the ballgame any time!

Jun 212013

Look at these two young kids! It’s hard to believe that’s Katie and I, in a lot of ways. A few years ago, this picture wouldn’t have been possible. We were both too heavy, and I was too weak. But now, it’s no big deal. Getting in shape has allowed us to enjoy life more, and enjoy each other more. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we both feel younger than we have in years.

Jun 162013
The primary purpose of this weekend was a combined family reunion and memorial weekend for several departed members of Katie’s extended family. I’ve long been fascinated by her family’s history, it being so different from my own. There are tangible elements of her roots that one can go and see, and touch. The family mountain, and the house in Parsons have been very special to her for her whole life, and this weekend, I got the chance to learn more about them.
Andrew Pifer, for whom Pifer Mountain is named, donated the land for the church and cemetery where he now lies.
Robert Fulton Murphy wished to marry Keturah Catherine Pifer, thus granting him access to the substantial land holdings of the Pifer family. As legend would have it, Andrew Pifer refused to grant her hand, on account of Murphy being a Democrat. The latter went away, but later returned, claiming a change of heart (and party affiliation), and was allowed to marry Keturah.
The memorial and interment of ashes of Katie’s paternal grandmother, Elsie Rollenhagen. We were all brightly dressed for the occasion, which seemed entirely appropriate to the sunny disposition of the woman I heard described.

Finally, the gravestone of Ethne Murphy, Katie’s paternal great-grandmother, from whom she takes her beautiful middle name.