Category Archives: Races

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast.  My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends.  While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.

18194935_10100100507769870_3898880809216318365_n
Me & Jayme

I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)

I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.

I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.

Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.

Once we started, the race went straight uphill.  I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked.  A Spartan beast is over 12 miles.  They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total).  That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles.  If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.

The hills seem almost endless at times.  Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race).  I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.

I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill.  I’m really good at running downhill.  Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over.  There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.

Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.

There were a total of 32 obstacles.  Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):

Walls

In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past.  Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over.  For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost.  Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.

There was also a wall in the water.  For this one, we had to swim under it.  I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves.  I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.

After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it.  We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.

18274731_10100101378130660_4033899464392614853_n
AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference.  Lots of people were slipping all over the place.  When I tried, I didn’t slip at all.  I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.

I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom.  Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom.  They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.

I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.

Water

There are a few times when you have to walk through water.  This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water.  I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.

I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty refreshing.

I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles.  The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches.  In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.

This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream.  One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step.  I fell onto a rock and cut my knee.  I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud.  It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.

18278836_10100101378095730_8968140780571586298_o

Memory

I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race.  You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are.  My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”

When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point.  If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees.  But somehow we never had to do that.  I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking.  But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.

Z-Wall

I love this obstacle.  It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips.  I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.

For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across.  It is in the shape of a Z.  I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me.  I told him to just spot me in case I needed help.  I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended.  The same was true with my arm.

So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground.  I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.

I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.

Log Carry

Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one.  You must carry it up and down a hill.  The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.

I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill.  Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me.  Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.

On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.

18192755_10100101378395130_585212377299868903_o

Spear Throw

I hate this obstacle.  It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay.  So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle.  AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.

Sandbag Carry

The females and males have different weights to carry.  Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water.  Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.

I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.

Monkey Bars

These are my major weakness.  I just can’t do the monkey bars.  But one day I will be able to.  They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it.  They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.

They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.

They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one.  AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.

Atlas Carry

They have these big cement stones on the ground.  You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.

Picking it up is the hardest part.  Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.

40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.

I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up.  Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position.  That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.

Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.

Gravel Bucket Carry

This is an obstacle that most people hate.  It’s brutal.  It always comes towards the end of the race.  In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice.  You have to fill a bucket with gravel.  It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.

Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket.  If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again.  This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.

This was at the end of the race.  My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles.  Every step was difficult.  I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill.  I would rest the bucket on my thigh.  That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath.  Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.

At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part.  I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.

I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case.  The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps.  Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel.  I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.

Rope Climb

I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race.  Usually, the ropes are over water.  This time, the ropes were over foam mats.  And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym.  However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race.  My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed.  I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling.  I opted for the burpees.  Again.

Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:


Results

I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division.  Not too bad!

18199565_10100100507814780_7179804860776221210_n


Women’s Clothing:

Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top.  I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet.  Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.

Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks.  If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing.  If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris.  I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.

I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low.  That was pretty painful.  I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles.  They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.

10710775_786801517740_3391339105368188830_n

Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont.  Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.

I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:

849182

Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip.  These are similar to the ones I have:

I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope.  We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet.  Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all.  Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.

Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast.  In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.

I have a small Camelbak.  It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago.  This is mine:

Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak.  I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me.  We ended up having 3 each.  In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result.  It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.

I also kept our headlamps in another pocket.  We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.


 

 

After the Race:

Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar.  Then you can grab your T-shirt.  I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year.  In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra.  I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.

18157005_10100100508014380_1791599681376253255_n
T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down.  I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.

18157955_10100100507879650_5066540600074565699_n
Dirty face after the race

After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff.  AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening.  Sunday was another lazy day.  They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.

If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs.  I’m not really too sure.  I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step.  It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.

Stairs were my absolute enemy.  I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons.  My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.

We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs.  Tuesday was still pretty rough.  Wednesday I was almost walking normally.  Thursday was normal other than steps.  Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).

After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it.  Maybe it would have helped.

I was also really sore in my inner arm.  I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls.  I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.

18199496_10100100736586320_5803325412599890363_n
Bruised arm

Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall.  I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.

Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:

18157772_10100100508069270_1618383544097680753_n

Until next time, AROO!

18157567_10100100507949510_7054268024918287714_n

Advertisements

2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

8
Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

9
Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

13
Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

14
Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

16

After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

IMG_5251

We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

23

Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

18

We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

19
My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

20

Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

33

After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

28
Shooting the M16
29
Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

34

They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

39

They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

46.jpg
One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

47

After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

54
Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

IMG_5354

After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

17972362_1495846200467528_1181882220764941668_o

Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

17879996_1495846500467498_7588320115294675831_o

Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

17917590_1495846217134193_6714107715754152961_o

There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

17973747_1495846657134149_5033161091520194030_o

After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

18341649_10100101725659210_352328707666382298_n

We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

71

I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

73

After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

77

They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

17904453_999510846540_317794641169529218_n

We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

90
Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

041717M-PU373193001

IMG_5381
Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

93

We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

12697409_10153982332333901_1671727628123816646_o

-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

12622196_880604410990_5703195810849673111_o.jpg
Posing with the snowman and my cousin
12525205_880605239330_5149117268105418203_o
Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
12513602_880605942920_2639910518837035796_o
The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

12748031_886751851470_4000042486813309757_o

-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

736847_888077385090_7495360253343654452_o

March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

12961331_896234388390_2448266164399249281_o.jpg

12898371_896234757650_1681754619427670243_o.jpg
Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

12961201_896407301870_7949962788837363568_o.jpg

I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

12973502_896419831760_6615764716971921707_o

-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

12983356_898546634630_4655678555067066614_o

May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

13220604_902856407810_9143439467811832209_o.jpg

-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

13428614_910560344060_4276779870370748848_n

-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

13613370_914328128390_1941963951875872756_o.jpg

-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

13697116_916236973050_1292866224619967960_n.jpg

-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

13707636_916236983030_3215762801702394226_n

-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

13719613_918667272710_2767537692045569203_o.jpg
Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

13914060_923967925160_2580908050753008799_o

-I started riding my bike all around the shore

14183734_931559077430_3554072254212443065_n
Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

14107722_927684137840_8680022453230278259_o
My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

14115516_927687825450_4543052248634883983_o.jpg

14124975_927680130870_6079836906877582612_o
The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

14064095_928767377020_7359037492291016803_n

-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
14184379_931559566450_2444349923712427135_n

-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

14434838_936425415250_8096480138123025551_o

-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

14516343_936902329510_7201335071043990918_n

October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

14448901_938221920040_3287079071031479251_n

-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

14559947_939879618000_5852361517362627532_o

-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

14907218_946006799080_7844733517025443770_n

-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

14729237_941970797260_7643199945378235167_n

November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

14890390_947361404440_2687692922311237888_o

-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

14991857_947861222800_3424138299974684751_n.jpg

-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

14563538_951894150780_5272864502643436527_n

-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

15123226_953643854360_1909474045621637731_o.jpg

December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

15284901_955935157570_2440898352439205663_n
Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

15267535_956036629220_4198979149898904946_n

-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

15369933_345044275853887_8549766296822456817_o.jpg

-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

15442146_958886433190_9216596886483603541_n.jpg
Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

15541681_962270411670_7914522706802736525_n

-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

DSCN5624.jpg

-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

dscn2584

-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

DSCN5643.jpg

dscn5644

So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

God is so Good

I’ve been wanting to write a blog regarding my recent joy and gratitude for a while, but because I’ve been so busy (doing a bunch of awesome things), I just haven’t had the time.  So here are some of the things that have been taking up my time:

Bible Study

I am so incredibly thankful for the new amazing Catholics that I have met in my area, mainly as a result of attempting to start a Catholic young adult group here.  Through that, I met a great new friend and through her, I learned about a Bible study that meets each week.

Basically, we meet at a different person’s house most Thursdays for dinner and Bible study.  We share a meal and then study the Bible together.  The first time I was invited, it was a group of 6 or 7 of us.  This was some time in July.  I thought that these people had been close friends for years.  Only weeks later did I find out that their Bible study had started recently and some of them didn’t really know much about each other at all.

Since then, our numbers have continued growing.  Now we also have once a month Thursday holy hours, holding them at a different church each time.  I had been praying to find local Catholic friends basically from the moment I graduated from Franciscan University in December 2009.  It took a while, but I am currently so blessed in that I have met so many amazing passionately Catholic young adults.  And what is crazy to think about is that I didn’t know any of these people before June.  Most I’ve only known since July or August.  It’s interesting how quickly life can change in such dramatic ways.

This past Thursday, I hosted Bible study in my apartment.  We had 15 people there.  It was a little tight since I have a small apartment, but that was a great problem to have.  We just keep growing and meeting more amazing Catholics who desire to grow in their faith.

DSCN5594.jpg
Bible study

Kayaking

I lived here for almost a full year before getting to use my kayaks.  It was tricky getting my ocean kayak to the beach by myself.  There is also a river where I can kayak, but I can’t get either kayak on my car alone.

Toward the end of the summer, I used my kayak twice in the ocean.  Then I figured out how to get both of them to the river by putting one in my trunk and one on my roof rack.  I’ve gone kayaking there 4 or 5 times since September with two of my friends.

I love living in a place where I can walk a few feet and be at the ocean or drive a few blocks and be at the bay.  (They call it a river, but to me it seems to be a bay since it’s connected to the ocean.  I don’t know).  It’s pretty awesome.

14731270_941763008670_1598195912193083975_n
Kayaking Shark River

It’s also great that I have a job where I can finish a full day of work, be home by 3, and still get a few good hours of kayaking before it starts to get chilly.  It has been a nice autumn because the weather has been pretty warm even into November.

Here’s a quick video of getting to see the train while kayaking and also seeing the drawbridge:

Tenth Avenue North concert

I went to this concert back in October and it was just amazing.  They are my favorite Christian band and I had never seen them live before.  It was just what I needed at the end of a great, but long week.

This is my video of compiled video clips from the concert:

I am so happy that my friend Amanda invited me because I would have never known about the concert if it hadn’t been for her.  She is another friend who I met as a result of trying to start the area young adult group with my church.

At the concert, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North talked about Compassion International, which is the organization I found in order to sign up to sponsor Patience, my sponsored child in Rwanda.

I know from my own experiences in meeting Patience back in August 2015 in Rwanda that Compassion International seems to be doing great things across the world, but hearing even more accounts about it solidified my view of the organization.

11822405_853285348610_6617077975484104705_n
With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

What is great about Compassion is that they don’t bring in Americans to do the work overseas.  Rather, they use local churches and hire people within each country to oversee the program.  In some places where other sponsorship organizations were denied the opportunity to work in some dangerous areas, Compassion is allowed since they are based out of churches  that already exist in the community.

Catholic Underground

For Catholic Underground, a group of us from our Bible study drove up to NYC.  The church we went to for adoration was completely packed.  They had confession and praise and worship music during adoration and then there was live music downstairs afterwards.  It was an awesome experience, and great to get to know some of the people from my Bible study a little bit better through the long car rides.  I am so thankful for all of these new friends, even though I have only known them since this past summer.

img_8477
Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

I’m also excited about Catholic Underground because I met a guy from Connecticut there who also has an interest in overseas volunteering.  Through him, I might be able to find a connection to Catholic volunteer organizations to potentially serve with in the future.

The beach

It’s so simple, but I just love the beach so much.  I never expected this fall to be so warm that I could continue swimming so late into the year, but I’ve been lucky.  Maybe it’s a sign of global climate change, but for now I’ll just be thankful for the many beach days I’ve had since the end of the summer.

I’ve gone out for many morning beach walks, looking for beach glass and seashells.

I was even able to go swimming the day before Halloween!

14729237_941970797260_7643199945378235167_n.jpg

And THEN there was a whale at the beach on a few separate occasions.  Most recently, though, the whale was really close to the shore and it was feeding, so it kept leaping out of the water.  It was so incredibly exciting.

There is a person who lives in a house that overlooks the ocean and early last Saturday, I saw that he posted a live video of a whale.  I could tell it was right by my house.  I was still wearing pajamas, so I pulled on some leggings, threw on a jacket, grabbed my camera, and ran outside.

It was incredible.  The whale stayed in the general area for over an hour.

The picture below is just amazing.  I didn’t take it, but I did see the whale doing that multiple times.  The picture was taken by the guy who lives in the house right by the beach.

14900389_870353719732279_3700921162615339114_n

Who needs to pay for a whale watch when you live right by the ocean and can watch them swimming on a random Saturday at 9am?

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

Although I’m not completely satisfied with my result since I had an injured achilles tendon and subsequently didn’t beat my previous marathon time of 4:20 (I finished this one in 4:29), I’m happy that I have gotten my health back to a place where I’m even able to attempt (and finish) a marathon in the first place.

When I first moved to New Jersey, I was pretty healthy, but then I quickly started experiencing my Lyme symptoms again.

Last February I started going to hot yoga and that has helped a lot.  Last March I started running again for the first time after almost a year off.  In that  year I did go running, but never enough to actually train for any races.

I also found that I love yoga…something that I had never expected.  I always looked at yoga as glorified stretching, but it’s definitely more than that.

13654231_916281089640_4050698838434566425_n
Backyard yoga practice

I think that yoga helped me to get back into running.  It also seemed to make me faster.  I ran a 10k in May in Sandy Hook, a half marathon in June in Connecticut, a five mile race in July in Belmar, a relay race across the state of New Jersey in August, a half marathon in Sandy Hook in October, and a full marathon in Atlantic City in October.  I had a full year off from running, completing no races at all in 2015 and then I was able to compete in 6 races in 2016.

race_3218_photo_47975113

Now that I finished the marathon, I have to take a few weeks off from running to rest and heal my achilles.  I know that I would have done better if it hadn’t been for the injury, so I need to make sure that I don’t get back into running too quickly only to re-injure it.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my faith.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes I wish I learned about my faith about an older age.  But right now, I’m so at peace with my life in general and I think that a huge part of that has to do with my faith.

I know that God has a plan for me.

It’s really interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been single in five years.  I’ve been single now since February.  Back when I was in my last two relationships, I really thought that I was happy…especially in my more recent relationship.

Was I happy?  Sure.  But now I feel so much more peace and joy.

I have never been the type of person who needed a relationship to give me confidence in myself, but at the same time,  I liked being in relationships.  They were comfortable.  As a person who likes routine, I liked knowing what to expect each weekend.

But I realize now that both of these relationships were holding me back.  Yes, I was Catholic, and my exes were Catholics as well, but I wasn’t being pushed to grow in my faith.  I was remaining static.

Upon finding myself single last February, I started focusing more on God.  When I prayed, I kept getting the same message.  “Wait.”  Through the entire spring, I just kept doing just that.  Summer arrived and I was still without local friends.  I was still just trying to follow His advice, but it was hard.

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

And then, without even realizing it at the time, things started changing.  I started to meet new people who have turned into new friends.  I found out about Bible study, which has led to many other events.  I found out about the race across the state which led to other new friendships.

Here I am now in November.  I’ve been single for almost exactly 9 months.  And I feel so incredibly joyful.  I feel like my life is exactly where it needs to be right now.

I am healthy.  I am running and going to yoga.  I have awesome students this year at my job and I’m getting to teach the AP class that I love so much again.  I’m living by the beach going for walks, bike rides, and kayaking.  I just got a stand up paddle board this week.  I have amazing friends and Bible study.  God is a main focus in my life right now, and I just feel so blessed.

I didn’t know how to word this post because I know that other people are facing more struggles than I am right now, so I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows.  But at the same time, I can’t contain my gratitude.

I literally drove to work this week with a smile on my face, just thinking about the place I am right now in my life in general.

So if you’re a person who isn’t yet in a good place, you need to turn to God first.  None of my happiness found me until I left it in God’s hands, waiting for things to fall into place.  I was on my knees in tears at adoration.  I was at Stations of the Cross on Friday nights with no other plans for the upcoming weekends.  I was at Mass by myself each Sunday just praying and trying to be patient.

Things do get better.  It may not be according to our own timeline.  God’s timing may not be what we want.  But I don’t think that the joy I feel now would be the same if I hadn’t had the difficult times last winter and spring.  I needed that to now see the dramatic shift that my life has taken.

I don’t know where things will go from here.  But I am content in my belief that God has good plans for me.  He is in charge of my life and I am trying my best to make choices that reflect His will for me.

And right now, it all seems to be working out.  I am joyful, I am thankful, I am blessed.

Marathons – Why We Pay to Inflict Major Pain Upon Our Bodies

On Sunday, I completed the Atlantic City marathon.  This was my second marathon.  I ran my first back in 2013, in Hartford, Connecticut.  I finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes, which I was happy about.  My main goal had been beating 4 1/2 hours, so I succeeded.

Since then, I have been running other races (half marathons, a 10k, Spartan races, and a Tough Mudder), never wanting to put the time into training for a full marathon.  But I also always wanted to see if I could beat my original time.

This summer, I ran the River to Sea Relay across the state of New Jersey.  I ran 3 legs of the race, for a total of 16.5 miles.  It was that race that convinced me to try another full marathon, since I was already pretty far along in the training anyway.

However, over the past 3-4 weeks, I have been experiencing pain in my achilles tendon while running.  I took one week off because I was sick.  Then I ran 6 days the next week, but I had to take another full week off because of my achilles.  But after that week-long break, I set a PR (personal record) at my 4th half marathon, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

I was determined to get to the Atlantic City marathon.  Some people suggested I defer since I wasn’t completely healthy in terms of my achilles, but I had been training all summer.  I was going to that race.

Saturday I went to Atlantic City so that I wouldn’t have to drive there super early in the morning for the Sunday morning race.  I felt fine, but after a little too much walking on the boardwalk and through the casino, my achilles was feeling sore.

dscn2459
With my mom at the race expo on Saturday afternoon

I was really nervous.  I didn’t admit to my mom how much it was hurting or how scared I was, but I was just hoping that I would be able to finish the next day’s race.

On race morning, I felt great.  I ate my banana, a tiny bit of chicken, and 2 lemon Oreos.  But I was feeling really full, so I actually only ate half of each Oreo.  That was strange for me.  Maybe it was just the nerves, but later on in the race I kept having that same full feeling even though I knew that I wasn’t actually full.

I was so excited to start the race.  I warmed up a little with some dynamic stretches.  I tossed my sweats and long sleeve shirt to my mom, and crossed the starting line.  Here was the breakdown in miles for me:

Miles 1-4:  Feeling great.  Maintaining a pace around 8:45.  My achilles was sore, but not changing my stride.  I started to pray for people, offering up my race for the souls of my uncle Lowell who recently passed away, and my Brazilian grandma who had passed away just a few days after him.

race_3218_photo_47969213

Mile 5:  It was pretty windy, so I was running a little slower.  Mile 5 was a 9:04 pace.  I downed a GU gel and kept going.

Miles 5-9: Still feeling pretty good.  Maintaining a pace around 8:58.  (I knew that in order to finish in under 4 hours, I couldn’t let my average pace get above 9:09).  The wind was pretty brutal at times, but it didn’t slow my pace too much.  I prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet, though, because I was nervous that my achilles pain was going to get worse.

Mile 10-12: Feeling great, maintaining a 9:10 pace. Still in line to break the 4-hour marathon mark.  I was ahead of the 3:55 pacer.  Around 10.5 miles, I saw my mom and my friend Adam cheering me on, so that always gives me an extra energy boost.  I took at GU gel at mile 11, hoping for a little boost.

dscn2509
Feeling great at 10.5 miles

Mile 13: Half marathon crossed at 1:58.  I was starting to run slower than before, but not by a significant amount.  My pace was 9:26 at mile 13.  I knew that I would have to get faster, but I was starting to feel more and more achilles pain on my right leg and knee pain knee my left leg (probably for compensating for my achilles on the other side.)

The 3:55 pacer crossed me.  I decided I would just try to not let the 4:00 pacer pass me.

Miles 14-15:  Tons of pain.  Doubting my chances of finishing under 4 hours.  Now just trying to beat my marathon time from my 1st marathon (4:20).  Mile 14 was a 9:46 pace and also my last mile that I was able to finish in under 10 minutes (which I didn’t know at the time).

race_3218_photo_47975113.jpg

The 4:00 pacer approached.  I was determined to stay with him and his group.  But no matter how much my mind wanted it, my legs just wouldn’t go any faster.  No willpower was enough to get them to move more quickly.  They felt so heavy, but I wasn’t even close to the dreaded wall that marathoners fear, which usually happens between miles 18-20.  I knew that finishing this race was going to be excruciating, if not impossible.

Mile 18: This was the worst.  I suddenly dropped from a 10:30 pace to an 11:30 pace.  I don’t think I’ve ever run that slowly before.  I don’t even know if it can be called running.  It was more like a wobbly jog.   I was feeling so much pain that I was getting a little dizzy.  At one point, my eyes even seemed a little blurry.  I took a 3rd GU Gel and drank some Gatorade, hoping that the extra sugar would decrease my overall fatigue.

While running, my legs felt like lead.  Every step was painful. But any time I walked, I had a severe limp.   My right achilles was incredibly sore and bending my ankle hurt quite a bit.  And my left knee felt like someone was stabbing a knife into it.  So I would walk long enough to stop limping and then I would continue running.

Mile 19-21: I got a little bit of a second wind at mile 19.  Maybe more like a second breeze, really.  I was still running slowly, but I was able to run continuously without walking, at a 10:10 pace.  Since I had been so fast in the first half, at mile 20 I was still at a 9:30 average pace.  Still fast enough to beat my original marathon time.  Miles 19-21 were all a 10:30 pace.  Not a pace I’m proud of, but still running.

Mile 22: By now, the pain was there to stay.  11:08 pace for mile 22.  I saw the 4:15 pacer and I was determined to stay with her.  I could still beat my original time.

But eventually, even she passed me.  That was a huge blow to my morale, but I still thought that if I kept her in my sight, I might be able to at least break even with my original time.

Mile 23: By now, I was heading back to the boardwalk.  It was the last 5k, just a straight shot to the finish. Only 3 more miles.  Usually 3 miles sounds like nothing for me.  But I had to take 3 more walk breaks because the pain was so terrible, resulting in a 13:39 pace.  I knew I wouldn’t beat my original time at this point, so I decided to make good choices so as not to cause myself a major injury like a ruptured achilles tendon.

I am extremely competitive, so accepting the fact that I would finish after 4:20 was really difficult.  At one point on a walk break, I was limping pretty badly from my simultaneous left knee and right achilles pain.  A guy passed me, asking if I was okay.  I couldn’t even speak.  I just nodded and then some tears started running down my cheeks after he passed.  The tears were mainly a result of the pain, but also feeling let down that I wouldn’t accomplish my goal.

I stopped even looking at my GPS watch when it buzzed after each mile to tell me the average time.  I didn’t even want to know.  I only know now that I uploaded the data onto Garmin Connect.

The pain was so severe that I kept noticing that my hands were balled into tight fists.

Miles 24-25: I was so over it.  I just wanted to be done, not even caring about my time.  The only thing that kept me running was the fact that even running a slow 11:00 mile would be faster than walking.  I did not want to be out there any longer.

Mile 25: I ran/ walked/limped an incredibly slow pace of 13:53.  I was so close, but I just couldn’t force my body to be any faster.

Mile 26: Passing the mile 26 mile marker was exciting.  Then a man next to me tripped on the boardwalk.  I could tell he was struggling even before that.  I reached out my arm (though he was a big guy…if he fell, I couldn’t have stopped it from happening) toward him, but luckily he didn’t fall all the way.  He let out a loud groan, though, since I’m sure stubbing his toe was the last thing he needed.

I could see the finisher banner, so I kept trying to motivate him.  “We’re almost there.  Look, you can see the end!”  Motivating him actually helped me to feel a little better also.

Then the corral got closer.  Once I was close to the finish, I somehow had one last burst of energy.  I think it was actually more anger.  I sprinted to the finish, thinking ,”I hate this, I just want to be done.”  But then I crossed the line and I suddenly couldn’t breathe.

Sprinting at the end after feeling that much pain was probably not the best idea.  That’s probably how marathoners drop dead from heart attacks at the end of a race.

I just felt my “beast mode” click on.  The anger and pain and desire to be done just took over and I could no longer feel my aching ankle and knee.

dscn2513
Sprinting to the finish

I finished.  I got my medal.  I grabbed a water and gatorade and then the tears just started pouring down my cheeks.  My mom came to congratulate me for finishing.  I know she had been nervous about this race because of my recent achilles issues.  She asked why I was crying, thinking that it was because I was relieved to be done.  Or she thought it may have been sadness for missing my goal.

Actually, it was just tears from the amount of pain I was in.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried as a result of pain before.  I’ve suffered though pretty decent pain without crying.  I got a tattoo that took 3 1/2 hours.  I’ve experienced 9 years of Lyme-disease-related aches and pains.  Although Lyme has definitely brought me to tears, it was usually more of the emotional pain that was difficult for me — not tears as a result of my physical back or joint pain.

Obviously, I was sad about missing my goal.  I told my mom that I had failed.  But the tears were just from the sheer pain that I was feeling.

dscn2524
2016 Atlantic City Marathon finisher

So it makes me think, why do we pay to compete in marathons?  I love the half marathon distance because it’s difficult and competitive, but it doesn’t stress my body so badly.  But full marathons?  Pain is inevitable.  We pay hundreds of dollars to experience what I felt over the course of those 26.2 miles.

The Atlantic City marathon was $112.  The New York City marathon is over $400.  Lots of people travel far to get to their marathons.  They pay for flights and hotel rooms.  People are spending hundreds (and even thousands) of dollars for this pain.

Yesterday I wasn’t sure if I’d ever run another marathon again.  I thought maybe I’d just stick to halves.  But part of me is still so determined to beat a 4:20 marathon because I am absolutely positive that I can do it if I am uninjured and if I start slowly.

I think for me what makes the full marathon more meaningful than a half marathon is the sheer level of difficulty.  It takes such mental strength to push through that pain.  I could have tapped out at any moment after mile 13.  I could have sat down and given up.  But I didn’t.

Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the race, I’m still proud of myself.  I still finished, in a time that many people would love to have.  4:29 isn’t a bad race.  It was a 10:15 pace.  (My recent half marathon pace was 8:45, just so you have an idea of how slow 10:15 is for me.)  The average finishing pace for females was 10:51 and for males it was 9:58.  I did fine.  I’m just super competitive, so fine isn’t really enough.

I’m only 28.  I don’t think I could already say that I would never do another marathon because I’m pretty sure that at some point I will want to try it again.

I feel accomplished in knowing that I have the ability to push my body to run 26.2 miles.  13.1 miles is tough, but most people could work up to that type of race with minimal training.  A full marathon requires so much more training and mental fortitude.  To me, that’s what I love so much about it.  It’s just as much mental as physical.  I could have tapped out.  But my mind did not allow that.


What was really interesting to me was what happened when I went to church after the race.  The second reading was from the book of Timothy.  It was the one about competing well and finishing the race.  2 Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Then the last song had the line, “we will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength.”  How fitting.  I love how God has such perfect timing.


So that was my experience with my second marathon.  I am really proud of all that I have been able to do since getting Lyme disease.  2 full marathons, 4 half marathons, 4 Spartan races 1 Tough Mudder, 1 10K, 1 five-miler, and 2 color run 5Ks.  I really shouldn’t beat myself up over one race that wasn’t ideal.

I finished.  I am proud of myself.  I am a marathoner.

dscn2528

Jogger or Runner?

I recently read an article in Runner’s World magazine about the different connotations that the words “jogger” and “runner” have.  The writer, Mark Remy, explains how the term “jogger” is almost always the preferred term used by media outlets when a crime happens to a person who had been running.  It’s always the joggers who are raped, mugged, hit by cars, and who find the dead bodies along the trails.  The word “runner” is rarely used when concerning crimes.

I found this article so interesting because it’s so true that the word “jogger” is almost always the preferred choice when it comes to the news.  And the word “jogger” typically comes with a much more negative connotation than the word “runner.”

So what is it that determines which category we fall under?  I consider myself a runner, not a jogger.  But why?  What makes a runner?

Do I need to run a certain pace to be a runner?

Must I wear a certain type of sneaker?

Must I run a certain number of days or hours per week?

Must I participate in a certain number of races?

Must I run through the wind and rain and winter weather?

Must I have completed at least a 10K? Half marathon? Full marathon?

What makes a runner?

And how is a jogger different?  When I think of jogger, I think of someone who is running in order to lose weight, probably wearing gray sweat pants, and who is hobbling along rather than running smoothly, most likely out of breath.  Or I think of someone who is just taking a very short, leisurely job along the beach, running with the intent of embracing the beauty around them more than focusing on the running itself.

The definition of the word “jogger” is to move or shake with a jerk or a push.  So even the denotation of the word does not equate to smooth running.

Like many runners, I don’t like to be told that I’m a jogger.  Jogger?, I think. No, I’m not a jogger.  I RUN.

If someone calls me a jogger, it makes it seem less important, less significant.  It makes my running seem like more of a little hobby than something that I take pretty seriously.

Running is a relatively significant part of my life.  It’s what helps me to stay healthy and keep my Lyme under control.  It helps me to relax after stressful days.  It helps me to push myself to get faster and stronger so that I can get better at my race times.  It allows me to take time out of my day to simply be alone and think about what ever is on my mind.

In light of the problems of the world, this bit of semantics really isn’t the most significant thing to write about, but it’s something that I found so intriguing upon reading that Runner’s World article.

Do other sports have similar situations where one word for the sport is much more negative?  I’m not really sure.

And why is is that we runners aren’t the ones who are mugged and raped?  Is it because we run at a fast enough pace that we’re not the ones attacked?

It’s only the slow joggers who get into these situations, obviously.

Of course I’m just kidding, but really, why can’t a runner be mentioned on the news when some of these events take place?  It’s not like we runners are safe from being victims in a crime.

I think we should just phase the word “jogger” out of our vocabulary altogether.  If you take the time to get outside or get on your treadmill and go for a run, then you should just consider yourself a runner.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a 12-minute pace.  You’re still out there.  You’re still running.

It doesn’t matter if the farthest you’ve ever run is 1 mile.  You’re still running.

So let’s all embrace the term “runner.”  I am a runner.  Jogger?  No.  Definitely not.

run
Hartford Marathon 

 

My 2016 Goals

Most people do this in January.  It’s March, but that’s okay.

This is what I hope to accomplish in 2016:

 

-Get back into a regular workout routine of running, lifting, plyometrics, and taking hot yoga classes

-Eat healthier

-Run either a half marathon or more obstacle races (or preferably both)

-Learn more Portuguese before I go to Brazil for Spring Break, using Duolingo

-Practice my Spanish so that I don’t continue to forget it, using Duolingo

-Go to Eucharistic adoration on Monday evenings at least once a month

-Prepare spiritually for my mission trip to India in August

-Write in my journal

-Continue to write blogs

-Walk to Mass whenever the weather is nice

-Drink two 32-oz bottles of water every day (more if it’s especially hot or if I’m working out)

-Remember to take my vitamins / herbal supplements

-Listen to Christian radio on my drive to work even after Lent is finished

-Read books even when it’s not summer and it seems like I don’t have time to read for pleasure

My Resolution for 2016

I don’t really make resolutions. I just think they’re silly since most people can’t even remember their promise by February.

But this year, there is definitely a big change that I would like to make in 2016.

In 2013 and 2014, I ran half marathons, a full marathon, a Tough Mudder, and Spartan obstacle races.  It was an absolute blast, and it helped me to stay in great shape.

2015 hit me hard, though, in terms of Lyme symptoms.  I never really went more than 3 weeks without symptoms.  Thus, my workouts suffered.  Fortunately, because I eat healthy, my weight didn’t really fluctuate that much, but I can tell that my endurance is shot and my muscle mass is pitiful.

I went to confession at church this week, like I always do during Advent, and one of the sins I confessed was how I sometimes found myself feeling angry at God.  I had the whole “why me?” mentality regarding the Lyme, frustrated when it kept coming back.

The priest’s advice really resonated with me.  He said to stop saying “I’m sick” and to instead, say “I’m getting better.”  It’s not a lie, because at any time, I should be maintaining the hope that I am getting better.  And my mom always told me about self-fulfilling prophesies.  Saying “I’m sick” all of the time isn’t really helping anything.  If nothing else, it probably just perpetuates my symptoms since, in a way, I expect those symptoms.

I know that I can’t always maintain my positive “I’m getting better” outlook, but I think that being cognizant of the way I talk about the Lyme may be helpful.  I need to stop dwelling on the things I can’t do, but rather focus on the things that I am able to do.  This week I was able to walk on the beach a few times, I did two simple, low-impact workouts, and I even ran a mile, albeit a very slow mile.  I need to focus on each of those accomplishments rather than complaining that my running pace was not great.

It’s easier said than done, but I’m hoping that working on my outlook and positivity in 2016 will help me to feel better.  I also want to try to do workouts even when I’m feeling sick.  If my back hurts badly enough, it probably isn’t a good idea to run, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t at least do stretches, or go for a walk.  If my knees are sore, maybe I can lift weights instead of doing a run or squats.

I’m only 27.  I can’t already give up.  I have too many more things that I want to do.  Too many more races that I want to run.  So I am hoping that in 2016, I can complete in at least one race, if not more.  I’m hoping to either get my distance running up to the level that I can run a half marathon, or get my strength training in order so that I can run another Spartan race.

That’s my goal and I’m determined.

Here is my motivation:

run.jpg
Hartford Half Marathon – 2013
sparant
Spartan Beast – 2014 – 17 miles of obstacles and mountain climbing in Vermont

Bikini Snowmobile Race?

I was watching the news this morning just to see what the road conditions would be since we have a 2-hr delay at work today.

While waiting for traffic and weather, they started talking about a bikini snowmobile race. The news anchors (both male and female) thought it was such a cute, funny idea. I’m sorry, but I absolutely disagree.

I wrote a previous post that was similar to this one (see it here: https://peppermintfrostblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/why-do-we-only-support-breast-cancer/).

In this post, I talked about all of the breast cancer awareness products:

1. “Save the ta-tas” bumper stickers, shirts, you name it. Because “ta-tas” is how I’d like someone to refer to my breasts. Right. In most scenarios, women would be disgusted by a man calling her breasts “ta-tas,” but throw on the pink label and suddenly it’s okay.

download (1)

2. “I love boobies” bracelets, shirts, etc. Again, add the pink ribbon and nobody can complain about the language.

3. October 13th – National No-Bra day. Maybe there’s something more to this one than I understand. But how does my not wearing a bra help fight breast cancer in any way? Sure, the men are quick to jump onto this bandwagon. They would love to see all of us without bras on in order to “support cancer.” But if I ever actually did this, I would be objectifying myself as a woman rather than lifting up the women who are suffering. I can assure you that I will never support National No-Bra Day. It’s not that I don’t support cancer; it’s that I have this thing called self-respect.

4cc9gnz

Unfortunately, now there’s another item I must add:

4. Bikini snowmobile races. There’s a group called the Radar Racers and they have an annual bikini snowmobile run in St. Germain Wisconsin. Here’s the video:

The girl who speaks first jokes about how she can suck it up being cold to raise money for breast cancer. Then she even admits how many of the men come out just to watch the girls in bikinis. If you want to ride a snowmobile in your bikini that’s one thing, but actually having an event where this is what they have decided will raise the most money for breast cancer is really sad.

They race on 660 feet of snow track. I was just watching the X Games the other day. The men who ride the snowmobiles wear huge, thick jumpsuits to keep them protected. Obviously it’s a bit more intense since they’re going off jumps, but still, if any of these women fall off of their snowmobiles or if there’s ever an accident, they will absolutely be destroyed since there’s barely any protection on their bodies other than a helmet.

Regular female snowmobile rider:

OldSite-20080225-IMG-4007snowmobile-800x600

Bikini rider:

snowmobile

Apparently, watching women race snowmobiles isn’t that enticing. But put them in bikinis and of course there are spectators. That’s because you’ve lowered them to nothing more than objects. For the men in the audience, it’s probably similar to going to a strip club, watching them remove their coats and layers when they’re about to ride, and then proceeding to race in itty bitty bikinis.

How can people really believe that it’s ultimately for the good of breast cancer? What’s next? We might as well put some breast cancer jars in strip clubs to raise money there. Prostitution in return for money for breast cancer awareness? Sure. Obviously I’m being hyperbolic, but these silly events that objectify women while covering that up by saying it’s all about breast cancer awareness simply drive me insane. No, you’re still just objectifying women. Putting the “breast cancer” stamp on it doesn’t change the situation. Our society has still not yet progressed enough to see women as anything other than boobs, butts, and objects of sexual gratification.

Lots of men deal with testicular cancer. So what should be done to help them? Make “I love weiners” bracelets? You couldn’t say “I love penis.” That’s a bit too extreme. So we need a silly nickname. For women we have “I love boobies,” so maybe “I love wee-wees.” Yep – let’s put that on a bracelet. And T-shirts. And bumper stickers. Then we have the “Save the ta-tas” gear. We can change that to “Save the ballsacks.” Yea. I’m sure girls will all go out to buy those t-shirts to support testicular cancer.

Then we’ll have the g-string snowmobile race for the men since all of the ladies will come out to watch that. We’re not objectifying the men; it’s just the easiest way to quickly raise money. Put them in a thong, bring in a crowd, and get some money raised.

It’s all just insane. And the fact that people view all of these breast cancer campaigns as normal is the worst part. We need to have higher standards. I absolutely believe in raising money for cancer awareness (though I wish we focused on all cancers rather than only breast cancer), but I don’t believe in lowering my standards to do so. You want me to buy pink products for breast cancer? Fine. But ask me to go without a bra for a day or put on a bikini and ride a snowmobile? No thanks.

2014: My Year in Review

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, full of some of the highest highs and, unfortunately, one of my lowest lows in losing my dog. But looking back, I am truly blessed to have such an exciting life. I was able to participate in a variety of activities this year that I’m incredibly thankful for.

JANUARY:

-Starting off the year with a New Year’s lobster dinner.
-Annual trip with my family to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY.

Lobster
Lobster
High Falls at Frost Valley
High Falls at Frost Valley
Rock climbing at Frost Valley
Rock climbing at Frost Valley

FEBRUARY:

-Ending my 3-year relationship.
-Lots of hikes with Butterscotch at trails and parks around the area.

Jan 2

MARCH:

-Carlos’ visit from Brazil.
-My mom’s birthday.

Central Park
Central Park
Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Shamrock Shakes
Shamrock Shakes
My mom's birthday
My mom’s birthday

APRIL:

-Spring Break trip with my mom to Marco Island, Florida.
-Seeing Eminem’s Marco Island house.
-Color Me Rad 5k in Hartford with Jayme.
-Hosting Easter for my family at my house.

Airboat ride in the Everglades
Airboat ride in the Everglades
Holding a baby gator
Holding a baby gator
Marco Island, Florida
Marco Island, Florida
Marco Island, FL
Marco Island, FL
Eminem's Marco Island home
Eminem’s Marco Island home
Color Me Rad 5k
Color Me Rad 5k
Easter
Easter

MAY:

-Graduation from Western Connecticut State University with my master of science in education with a focus on curriculum.
-My mom’s graduation from the same school with her bachelor of arts in professional writing.
-Graduation party at my grandparents’ house.
-Kenny Loggins concert in Stamford for my mom’s birthday present.

Graduation
Graduation
Former students surprising me at graduation
Former students surprising me at graduation
Mom's graduation
Mom’s graduation
Graduation party
Graduation party
Kenny Loggins concert
Kenny Loggins concert

JUNE:

-Elise’s Nerdy Thirty birthday party
-DHS graduation
-Fairfield Half Marathon in Fairfield, Connecticut with Jayme.
-Spartan Sprint at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut with Juan.

DHS graduation
DHS graduation
Elise's birthday party
Elise’s birthday party
Fairfield Half with Jayme
Fairfield Half with Jayme
Fairfield Half
Fairfield Half
Spartan Sprint
Spartan Sprint
Spartan Sprint with Juan
Spartan Sprint with Juan

JULY:

-Grandpa’s 80th birthday party.
-Butterscotch getting sick with pneumonia, seizures, and possibly a brain tumor before finally being put to sleep on July 12th.
-2-week vacation in Long Beach Island, NJ.
-My 26th birthday in LBI.
-Surfing lessons with my cousin, Lindsay at LBI.

Grandpa's party
Grandpa’s party
Grandpa's 80th
Grandpa’s 80th
My last moments with Butterscotch
My last moments with Butterscotch
LBI with Mom
LBI with Mom
LBI with Matt
LBI with Matt
26th birthday
26th birthday
Surf lessons
Surf lessons
Surf lessons with my cousin
Surf lessons with my cousin

AUGUST:

-Jersey Boys and Churrascaria Plataforma in New York City with my mom.
-Eminem/Rihanna concert: The Monster Tour with Lucia.
-New York City with Lizzy and her mom.
-Starting my 5th year of teaching.

Mom with a cast member from Jersey Boys
Mom with a cast member from Jersey Boys
Churrascaria Plataforma
Churrascaria Plataforma
Making friends waiting in line for the Monster Tour
Making friends waiting in line for the Monster Tour
Rihanna
Rihanna
EMINEM!!!  One of the best days of my life!
EMINEM!!! One of the best days of my life!
NYC with Lizzy
NYC with Lizzy

SEPTEMBER

-Super Spartan 8-mile race in Vernon, New Jersey.
-Spartan Beast 16+ mile race in Killington, Vermont.

Spartan Beast - NJ
Spartan Beast – NJ
Spartan Beast - VT
Spartan Beast – VT

OCTOBER:

-12-mile Tough Mudder in Englishtown, New Jersey.
-Traveled to Brazil for 4 days to be a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding to Carlos.
-Dressing up as m&ms for Halloween at work.

Warrior Carry - Tough Mudder
Warrior Carry – Tough Mudder
Tough Mudder - NJ
Tough Mudder – NJ
With Vanessa and Carlos at their wedding reception
With Vanessa and Carlos at their wedding reception
Rio with my cousin Gabriel
Rio with my cousin Gabriel
Rio with some of my cousins
Rio with some of my cousins
Halloween at work
Halloween at work

NOVEMBER:

-Spartan Sprint at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.
-Thanksgiving with my family.
-6-month anniversary with Matthew.

Spartan Sprint
Spartan Sprint
Spartan Sprint at Fenway
Spartan Sprint at Fenway
Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
6-month anniversary
6-month anniversary

DECEMBER:

-Going to MetLife stadium to watch Red Bank Catholic win the NJ State Championships.
-Adopting Rocky for a week before finding him a (hopefully) forever home.
-Spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my family.

RBC vs. Delbarton NJ State Championships
RBC vs. Delbarton NJ State Championships
After the big win
After the big win
Rocky
Rocky
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas morning with Rocky
Christmas morning with Rocky
Christmas Day
Christmas Day

Thank you to everyone with whom I shared some great moments this year. I wish everyone a healthy, happy, blessed 2015!

~Stephanie