Navy 10 Nautical Miler

As runners we tend to measure our distance in one of two major systems, the metric system with 5k’s and 10k’s being the most popular of these. Then there is the imperial system with all its fractions and decimal points, 13.1 and 26.2 blah, blah, blah.

What if I told you there is another way of measuring your distance? What if there was a completely new distance in this system that you have probably never raced before? There is and it’s call a nautical mile. A nautical mile is roughly 1.15 miles

In 2010 the NSA Mid-South started this race, measuring at 10 nautical miles. Why this distance? According to their race information packet, 10 nautical miles is the distance from a ship to the horizon line. It is also the distance that our brave men battled from when they stormed the beaches of Normandy.

I have wanted to do this race for several years now and I finally made the time to do it. Overall, I’m glad I did and wonder why it took me so long to attend. I wasn’t sure what to expect there, I have seen many photos of the race and it looked like a major one.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon to the health and fitness expo/packet pick-up. It was not as large as the major marathon expos that I have been to, but there was plenty to see. They were set up in an old airplane hanger, so there was ample room, no tripping over other runners. In fact, the entire event was held on the largest inland U.S. Naval base. Looking around and watching the staff and volunteers, it was apparent that the officials had it all together. Everything was organized and everyone seemed to know exactly what they needed to be doing.


Wearing our Arkansas Run for the Fallen shirts at the Expo

Sunday was race day! 6 a.m. start time! If you ask why the start time was so early, then you probably haven’t ran in the south much during the summer, it gets hot and humid fast here. As for Sunday instead of Saturday? I can only assume that it has something to do with the traffic and the fact that several major streets in and around the base are closed down completely.

At that time of the morning, the sun is just starting to peek over the horizon, but this day it was cloudy and there was a threat of rain. We were corralled up by anticipated finish times, faster ones in the front. As we took off, the course seemed flat to me, but I had been told there would be some rolling hills. We wound around what seemed like a back part of the installation, there were even some old airplanes there as if they were being prepped for display.

Before I knew it, I was at an aid station. The stations were at each nautical mile. I only used one since I was carrying my own water and nutrition. What I did see was that they were well stocked and the water and Gatorade had been kept iced, which is great for the Memphis summer runs. They also had porta-potties at each one, another good idea. With the cloudy conditions, the weather felt great and I just started running by feel and enjoying the day. Aid stations seemed to click by, each one with a sign showing what nautical mile you were at.

Along the course were sailors in their camouflage guiding and cheering for us. While I know that this was probably a typical military volunteer situation they seemed genuinely happy to be there, even at this early hour (for those not familiar, the military has a system where-as the superior rank tells someone that they have volunteered for a duty, otherwise know as being volu-told).

As for me, I went into the race just to enjoy and stay on top of my nutrition. I was hoping to do it in around 2 hours. I only casually glanced at my watch when the miles beeped, I didn’t really pay attention to it until mile 6 (actual mile since my watch doesn’t have a setting for nautical miles).  It was at that point I realized something, I was going to do a personal best on the 10k! I actually ended up doing a 58:39. It was then that I realized that I could actually do the 2 hour goal I had set. After all, I felt great and was already well over the halfway point, so why not?

A swig of Tailwind, a gel and off I went. The nautical miles and the accompanying aid stations seemed to click off. I had only made the stop at number 5 where I filled up my water bottle, so there was no need to stop at any others, but they made for great mental markers. I ran from aid station to aid station, just enjoying the run. The heat and humidity held off a little. It was warming up, but the overcast skies held off the major heat. I even felt a few rain drops along the way.

The hills were not bad by my standards, they were rolling hills that started18839314_1493715587333939_8228137875747962727_n around 2 miles in and were never a hard grade. By the halfway point, we had reached the maximum elevation. The worst was behind us or so I thought.

We entered a paved trail walking/jogging trail that went behind the base housing. Several of the residents came out to their backyards in order to cheer us on. At one point we went into the streets in the housing area with more residents out to cheer and one family outside with their water hose spraying into the street to cool the runners.

I always like to finish strong, push the last bit and this was my plan here also. What I had not counted on was the long steady hill up to the finish line. Again, it was not steep, just a long one, especially after 10 plus miles. I pushed as much as my legs would allow me to. I even managed to pass a couple of runners on the home stretch. As I approached the finish, my eyes went straight to the clock, 1:51 and counting. Official time-1:51:15.28, I had beat my goal!

I feel like I would 18835675_1530554330318974_4532056194763520342_nhave done a little better, had I realized that there was free waffles and beer at the finish. I’ll know next year, so maybe I can shave a few minutes off. The after party was well stocked, plenty of water and did I mention waffles and beer?

The most surprising thing to me was that 1,500 people were signed up, yet it had the feel of a small town race. It’s really hard to put your finger on why, but it just felt like a small race. Maybe it was the support of the local community, maybe it was that the organizers were on top of everything, or maybe it was the abundant volunteers who knew what needed to be done. Overall this is a great race that I am sure will continue to grow. I look forward to going back for many years and seeing what it becomes.

Liza Howard

A year ago, I sat in a room full of strangers. An odd lady with a squid hat stood at the front of the room. She explained that the things I would learn and the people I would meet over the next few days would change my life. What did she know? I mean, she obviously could not discern good head wear from bad, how could she know that the people in that room would change the course of my life?

That lady with an odd taste in hats was Liza Howard. She was the reigning champion at The Leadville 100. Most importantly, she was the person who had brought all of us together. She had assembled a team of trail and ultra runners in a camp outside of San Antonio. The purpose was to teach trail running to members of Team RWB.


Liza, the Squid hat and myself

Not only was she right, but she, herself was one of those people who helped shape my trail running future. Her love for teaching others has inspired me and helped me discover a love of sharing the knowledge that I gained from her and her team.

Knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life is, perhaps, the most satisfying thing one can know. This is probably why you will almost always see her smiling.

But still, a squid hat? Why? Well, according to Liza, her friend Nikki was shopping for Halloween costumes and brought over some prospects. She accidentally left the squid hat behind and it was never returned. She wore it to camp because she thought it set just the right tone. As Liza put it “There’s room for everybody under the ultrarunning big top. Also it made me more visible.”

Ok, I will give her this, it does command attention in a fun way. Whomever was wearing the hat had the floor, one had to respect the squid hat. It does fit in with her personality. She has this fun way of teaching, where we ended up laughing our way through the planned lesson. This was usually due to bad acting or missed cues from the students she had chosen to help. Her teaching method involves anyone and everyone. Even bystanders are not immune to  becoming object lessons.

As someone who spends so much time giving advice, I was curious, what was the best advice she had received. She said that when she was at the 50 mile point of a 100 miler, a friend asked how she was doing, she replied that she hurt. He told her that everyone was hurting. According to Liza, “It was the perfect reminder during that race and during training, that, of course, it’s hard. Don’t expect otherwise.”

Since she told me about this several weeks ago, I have turned to it during my training. Yes it hurts sometimes, but if it didn’t hurt, everyone would do it. The pain we are willing to endure is what makes us. Even when I am trying to learn more about her, she somehow has taught me.

With so many wins and podium finishes, I thought she would have this great story of how she got into running. Alas, it was just a simple choice, she wanted to run a marathon. The training group was so much fun that, as she put it, she kept going and never looked back. Going is somewhat of an understatement, her favorite race distance is now 100 milers. She claims it is due to her love for belt buckles.

I asked her what her most memorable finish was, she said it was the 2011 Javelina 100. It involved being hauled off to the hospital with a case of rhabdomyolysis. This is basically when the muscle tissue breaks down and releases their contents into the blood stream. This can be a very serious condition that can lead to renal failure. You can read her account of that race here.

In addition to running, she coaches for Sharman Ultra. She also teaches first aid having instructed at the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS and National Outdoor Leadership School.

Still somehow she finds the time to mentor me, answering even the smallest question, whether a running question or helping me plan a day long clinic based off of her trail running camp. Once I sent her a message asking for some input, her reply was that she would love to help me, but it would have to wait a couple of weeks since she was on her way to Morocco for a race!

I am sad to report, this will be the last year that she will wear the squid hat at trail camp. An operation like this cannot be an easy task. Her energy to teach and training as a world-class runner on top of being a mother to 2 small children is amazing, but she feels it is time to move forward.

Her impact on trail running will last for years to come, both through the one on one teaching 12096110_968416266532786_2936749125802329052_nshe does and through those she has taught at trail camp. My personal aspiration is to live up to her example as a mentor. While I may never achieve the impact that she has, I will still strive to. Even if it hurts, we all hurt so I might as well enjoy the pain and smile through it.

Silence is Golden

I think I am in the minority here, but let me state this publicly, I rarely listen to music when I run. At one point I did pop in earbuds whenever I laced up. One day I was challenged to try running without them and use that time to just focus on me, to think and to decompress. I tried it and I began to notice things around me, I was more aware of not just my surroundings, but of my body and my performance. For awhile, I started unplugging on my short runs, using only one earbud during longer runs, but that eventually faded into a rarity. I feel like it has gotten to the point that people look at me funny because I don’t use them.

I do know some runners who carry their earbuds with them and use music as a reward on extremely long runs. This seems like a happy medium, I’ve never tried it so I can’t knock it.

Then there are the people who still listen to music, just not with headphones. They happily tromp along, blaring their music. On the surface this would seem safer since they could hear traffic and their surroundings better, but most are just an annoyance to those around them.

Here are the reasons that I choose not to incorporate music into my runs:

1. Safety- We all know that wearing anything that impairs your hearing while running or walking is dangerous, but some people have the attitude that it can’t happen to them. Well it can happen to you and your loved ones, it has happened.

2. Connect with my surroundings-One can enjoy the views and surroundings much better without the distraction of music. We spend for too much of our lives connected to our phones and other devices, we need to disconnect sometimes. For me, its during my runs.

3. Focus on my breathing-Lately my attention has been focused on my breath. Rhythmic breathing may sound odd to some, but give it a try. It can help take your mind off the discomfort of running.

4. Connect with my running partners-its much easier to get to know someone without the earbuds in. It just seems unsociable to have an earbud in while running with someone else. How are you suppose to encourage each other if you are wrapped up in your own little world?

5. Mental break from the world-may people use their training runs as a break from the daily grind, so why would you add static to this break?

All in all, I like some silence in my life and during my run is when I get it. I won’t look down on someone who chooses to have music, its just not for me. Some favor one brand shoe over another, I favor the sounds of nature and the voices of those around me more than prerecorded noises.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do listen to classical music when writing. A high school art teacher of mine would occasionally do this when we were working. For some reason I have done it for creative purposes since then. It seems to help me write, so I understand where a person would want to listen while they run.

Arkansas Run for the Fallen (continued)

I’ve decided to do a second part to my Arkansas Run for the Fallen post. It seems like there is just so much more to say. This week has been hectic for all of those involved and the coming week it will only get crazier. The thing is; once it starts, it all becomes worth it. 

At the beginning, there will only be family sporadically at the mile markers. Some are unable to make it, some feel that it’s too emotional. I completely understand that, not everyone handles a loss in the same way and their way of grieving is not necessarily the same way as others. Still those were always the saddest miles to me. That is until I realized that just because the family isn’t there, that hero is still being honored, people he never met are giving of their time and effort to remember the sacrifice that was made.

As we progress close to Little Rock, more and more families and friend start to appear. Things start to get a little bigger. It starts to become a celebration of what makes this country so great, people who have willingly paid the greatest sacrifice to defend America. Not that it has a carnival atmosphere, but I start to see more smiles. Smiles from the families as the realize that strangers are there to honor their loved ones. 

Many have raised their right hand and uttered those words that still ring in my own ears to this day…

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Even as an eighteen year old kid, we understood what the consequences could be. We were willing to make that commitment, so we utter those words. Soon after, we got on planes or buses and headed into an unknown world, for some it was the first time away from home.

Deep down, we knew that after basic training and some sort of technical training school we could come home for a little while. The scary part was when you hear for the first time that you will be deployed to an unfriendly area. You and your family have that fear deep down, but most of the time it’s not spoken of,  It’s just understood silently.

For a few that fear becomes a reality. As an American, we cannot forget that. We have all seen the videos of a soldier coming home, maybe surprising a family member, but we should never forget that some families don’t get that. Instead they get a knock on their door in the middle of the night, they get a folded flag and a thank you from a grateful nation. 

That is what the Arkansas Run for the Fallen is about, showing them that we truly are grateful. Not just until taps has played and 21 guns have fired, but eternally. Each name that we read, each mile we run represents a family that will forever be incomplete and for that I am truly grateful.