Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Diving in Panama City

I'm pretty new to this whole diving thing, and I still have much to learn. But every time I go, I learn something new, develop a new skill, improve upon my current skills, glean advice from more experienced divers, and expand my confidence and experience as a diver. And I absolutely love all of it.

Diving in Panama City this weekend was my third (and fourth) dive, if you don't count my first four dives to become a certified diver. It was an ocean dive, which I'd never done. It was boat dive - meaning I would have to jump off a boat to enter the water, and it was deeper than I'd ever been - about 75 feet at the deepest.

And let me just say - it was amazing and the absolute best dive I've done so far. The quarry dives I've done were cool and interesting...until they weren't. On those dives I found myself feeling uninterested way before the dive was over. When I got to the bottom of that ocean, I had to keep a close eye on my computer and air because I did NOT want the dive to end. I wanted to stay down there much longer than my air would allow. That was a new and pleasant feeling. I was left wanting more... almost craving it in a way.

The dive shop through which I've earned my certification and where I purchase all my gear and rentals has a quote on their website that says:

"The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."
                                                                                                        - Jacques Yves Cousteau

I found this to be true this weekend. I grew up on the beaches of Panama City. I went often, swam often, snorkeled, hunted for shells, and enjoyed the beauty of it all for years. But I'd never seen it like I did this weekend, and it was magical. Beautiful. Peaceful. Graceful. Full of wonder from the large goliath grouper, to the tiniest starfish hidden inside a sand dollar. I lack the words to adequately describe how I felt down there, experiencing this amazing part of God's creation I'd never seen before, but I'll try anyway.

Jason and I drove down Friday, stopping by Southeastern Divers Inc. on the way out to rent our tanks and wetsuits (one of the last bits of diving paraphernalia I've yet to purchase). Saturday morning we awoke early and headed to Panama City Dive Center to sign in, and then headed to Captain Anderson's Marina where we'd board the Reef Runner for our two ocean dives that day.

The original point of this trip was to hunt lion fish. Jason and I bought pole spears and a Zookeeper (a contraption in which you store your lion fish once speared), and were ready to hunt, but the water was too rough to go offshore, so we stayed inshore, but there were few lionfish to be found at either spot we dove. I hope to go back and give that another shot at a later date, but that did not detract from the fun we had.

We met Zach, our Captain, and Fred our Dive Master. Both were great and very good at what they do. Zach navigated some rough waters at the end and kept an eye on weather and conditions to keep us all safe. Fred, our illustrious dive master was a real character, from his colorful personality to his exteremly colorful language. He gave us all a hard time, telling us there were no sissies allowed on his boat, and regailing us with stories of previous dives. He seemed 10 feet tall to me (of course everyone seems tall to me) and had a handle bar mustache. He was retired military, a retired fire fighter, and a black belt in kung fu, so while he was joking around with us mostly (I think), I still took him pretty seriously. No sissies. Got it.

When it came time to dive, however, he was perfect. He was just what this new diver needed, in fact. (But don't tell him I said that.) We geared up, and Jason and I were the last off the boat. I wanted to see everyone else do it so I knew what to do. I recognized it all from my diving manual and the diving videos I'd watched, but doing it myself was still intimidating. Fred strapped on my fins and reminded me to hold my mask and regulator as I jumped. And then I jumped. I grabbed the swim line that would lead me to the anchor line... and panicked. I couldn't breathe. I could breathe, but I felt as if I couldn't. The waves were rough and the ocean was deep, and it all seemed too much. I said, "I can't breathe!" and Fred and Jason were immediately beside me. Fred said I could go back to the boat, and I said I wanted to. He helped me to the stairs and Jason followed.

I knew I didn't want my dive trip to end this way. I knew I wanted to get to the bottom and see that bridge span and look for a lion fish. But it seemed daunting. I didn't want to get down there breathing hard and fast like I was. I kneeled on the ladder catching my breath with Fred and Jason waiting for my decision. I said I wanted to try again (no sissies, remember). Fred helped me back to the rope leading to the drop line that was anchored to the bridge below, and Jason stayed close. I told him to give me a minute at the 15 foot mark and he said he would. I put my head under and began to descend. I took a minute to relax and "find my Zen" as another diver on the boat put it, and then I was ready. My breathing slowed, and then I forgot all my fear as the world below came into view.



I was surrounded by the most graceful school of fish. They all moved together as one and flowed under and around me. The bridge was covered in all kinds of coral and algae, with brightly colored fish playing around it. Large trigger fish, beautiful starfish, and all kinds of things I couldn't identify caught my attention, and I immediately thanked my God for giving me the courage to get down there and see His majesty around me. Again, there are no words to describe it. Jason kept checking in with me to see if I was okay, and I signaled I was, but I needed to say more. So I made a heart with my fingers and motioned to everything around me. I was WAY better than okay. I think I was in love.

Jason was great at reminding me to check my computer and air, and I became more aware of it despite my beautiful surroundings. My computer eventually beeped at me to tell me I only had 6 more minutes at my current depth, and I wanted to tell it to leave me alone. But Jason motioned upward and I knew I had to go. We explored the shallower portions of the bridge until close to 500 lbs. of air left and then ascended. Grudgingly.


Getting back on the boat was a little crazy with the rough waters, but I remained relaxed and didn't fight the waves or the moving ladder as I climbed aboard. Fred helped and practically lifted me up by my tank. He secured my tank behind me as I sat down and then looked me in the eye and said, "I don't usually blow smoke up people's asses, but you need to be proud of yourself for facing your fears like that."

I appreciated that. And it felt great to have faced it. And so very worth it! Our second dive was at B&B Barge. The waters continued to get rougher, and we had a current as we explored. It was only about 55 feet or so, but it too was beautiful, and it was there I saw the goliath grouper. He was as big as I was, and my fellow divers said he was a small one! Visibility began to lessen as the waters got rougher, but it was still beautiful. I found a flashlight a little away from the barge and retrieved it, thinking it might belong to one of our divers - which it did! (Salvage diving, here I come).

Ascending this time was a little more intimidating because when we got to our 15 foot safety stop, I could see the boat rocking violently above me. I did not want to get too close, but I also wanted to reach the swim line that would take me to the ladders. I saw it... and then I didn't see it. In fact I couldn't see the boat anymore. Jason and I ascended to see that we were almost past the trail line - which is the line behind the boat in case you miss the swim line. No worries though because Fred pulled it in and threw it out to us. We both got it and were pulled in. It was like skiing under water. I kind of liked it. When I got to the ladder I couldn't remove my fins and hand them up like before, so Fred jumped in the water and did it for me. I climbed up and sat back down on the boat safely once again.

I felt on top of the world! Exhilarated! And hungry for more. The boat ride back to the marina was beautiful and fun. I enjoyed getting to know our fellow divers, and that night we ate at Captain Anderson's with our small Huntsville group. Sunday, our dive got cancelled, and I was really disappointed, but we decided to visit my home church for services before driving home and that assuaged my disappointment some. The service was lovely, seeing so many dear faces was wonderful, and as we drove home, I felt refreshed and ready to hug my urchins and resume the daily grind.

Although, Jason and I couldn't help reliving our trip and discussing when we could go again. The sea is calling, and I must answer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little Fear and a Lot of Fun

As I mentioned in the previous post, everything we learned and practiced during the first weekend of Scuba training came easy to me. I grew up near and in the water, was on my high school swim team, and underwent life guard training as well. So all the skills our instructor asked us to demonstrate in the pool were not a problem. They were fun, and even the ones that seemed impossible like filling our masks with water and clearing them while submerged were surprisingly doable. We learned how to handle every possible issue that could take place under water, and I felt prepared if any of these things were to happen while diving.

The next weekend Jason and I kissed our kids goodbye and headed to the dive shop for our rental gear before taking to the road for Florida and my first open water dives. Jason would be trying some new skills too as he worked on his Advanced Diver's certification.

Saturday morning was cool and cloudy as we arrived at Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon, FL. I would be completing three of my four required open water dives there, and showing my instructor that I could do all the skills we learned in the pool...only this time I'd be doing them about 20 feet under water.

Demonstrating our skills in Vortex Springs
I felt ready, prepared, and excited to finally do this thing for real! We took our first plunge into the water and it was COLD. We had on wet suits and that helped...eventually. A wet suit traps water in, limiting the flow in and out, allowing your body heat to warm the cold water. That makes swimming in cold temps bearable. It was about 68 degrees in the springs, so it was just that... bearable.

Going underwater was amazing! There were fish everywhere! Right next to me, all around me. I even reached out and touched a few. As I tried to slow my breathing (the cold was shocking at first), I took in the sights around me as I slowly descended holding onto a rope tethered to the bottom. I could see other divers around me practicing their skills as well. We swam around a little and then settled on the bottom to demonstrate our skills.

Everything went really well until I was asked to remove my mask underwater, replace it, and clear it. This hadn't been a problem in the pool, but for some reason, when I let the cold water into my mask, my nose wanted to inhale. Trying to prevent this made me quickly replace my mask, slow my breathing and try again. This happened a few times and it was a little unnerving. The sensation of wanting to breathe through my nose and not being able to, made me a little panicky. I finally cleared my mask, looked at my instructor and shook my head no. He gave me the "okay" sign and we moved on.

We completed our three dives, but I knew I would have to master that skill before I'd be certified. I'd have one more chance this trip, when we did our drift dive in the Rainbow River further south. I was happy with the day's experience, but the fact that I hadn't mastered that one skill hung over my head. I tried to shake it off. I knew I wasn't scared, and I knew I could do it. But I remembered the panicky feeling, and it worried me.

We drove to Tallahassee where we spent Saturday night, and Sunday morning we finished the drive down to Dunnellon, FL. The day was beautiful and sunny, and the river was gorgeous. I was excited to try this drift dive, but I still had to remove my mask underwater...


Stepping in with the help of my amazing instructor, Sean.
We took a boat up river and then hopped out to "drift dive" back. There were all kinds of things to see on this dive - much more than Vortex Springs, and I loved it. Jason was by my side more for this dive and that made it much more fun. Finally we reached a 20 foot deep section and my instructor turned to me and signaled for me to deflate my BCD (buoyancy control device) and sink to the bottom. I knew it was time. I'd prayed about it, practiced it in the shallow water, and while the fear threatened to resurface, I knew I had to complete it. I knelt on the bottom, gave him the signal for "give me a minute" (I made that one up, but he understood), and very, very slowly let the water creep into my mask. I did it inch by inch...or maybe centimeter by centimeter, and as it filled my mask I closed my eyes and focused on breathing through my mouth. At one point I felt Jason pat my arm, giving me reassurance.

Eventually my mask was full and I removed it. I replaced it, cleared the water out of it, and wanted to shout! I almost gave the thumbs up sign, but in diving that means "ascend" so I did the ok signal with both hands. Sean, my instructor, shook my hand, and I grabbed both of his and squeezed. He got the message. I was so excited to have done it, and so grateful for his instruction and patience. He flipped open a tablet he had clipped to his BCD and showed it to me. It said," CONGRATULATIONS!  YOU ARE A CERTIFIED OPEN WATER DIVER!" Or something along those lines.

This girl just became a certified open water diver!

I was so excited and relieved! I squeezed Jason's hand and brought it to my mouth piece - and he got the message too. I was grateful to have him next to me, assuring me and believing in me. We continued our dive, exploring vents, chasing big fish, and enjoying all the underwater beauty that surrounded us. I was finally a certified open water diver, and that, along with diving itself, felt amazing. Now I could enjoy the rest of our trip (MANATEES!) with that accomplishment in my pocket.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Learning to Dive

As the new year approached, I was having a hard time facing it with any enthusiasm...which was definitely out of the norm for me. I love a fresh start whether it is a new year, a new month, a Monday, or simply a morning. But 2017 looked like it was going to be a letdown after the wonderful year of racing, PRs, and trips with my one true love that was 2016. I was injured with no relief in sight, and I was trying to shift my focus upward instead of inward, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

One chilly rainy day, I was sitting next to Jason on the couch as Eloise and Matthew played around us, and I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw an ad for a trip to swim with the manatees. I'd always wanted to do that ever since I was a little girl. I used to have posters on my wall, glass figures on my dresser, and t-shirts, all devoted to my beloved manatee. And even though I lived in Florida, only a few hours away, I never made it to see them in person.

I shared this with Jason, and his response was, "Well, let's plan a trip then." I love that man. I then explained to him that we had to go soon because the manatees were usually in Florida from January through the end of March. He was still game. I then admitted I not only wanted to swim with manatees, I wanted to learn to scuba dive as well. Within an hour of this couch conversation, we were dressed, our kids were loaded in the car, and we were on our way to Southeastern Divers Inc. to register for a Scuba class and sign up for the manatee trip that would follow the four required open water dives in Florida.


I was given an open water dive manual to read before my class in February, and instructed to come to the store to watch the 5 videos that accompanied it. I completed it all, and spent Saturday, Feb 11 in the classroom and the following Sunday trying out everything we learned in a University pool. It all came easily and I loved every minute. I was breathing UNDER WATER! As I drove home, tired and excited, I couldn't wait to head to Florida the next weekend to try out everything in open water, and share this amazing experience with Jason, who has been certified to dive since high school. He took a refresher course before our trip and has since begun his certification as an advanced open water diver.

As we headed to Florida on February 17 for a long weekend of diving and exploring, we realized it was the first time in 9 years we'd gone on a trip together that was not centered around a race. And it was only the 3rd such trip of our married life, and that counts our honeymoon too. I had a pretty strong feeling this new year of 2017 was not going to be a letdown after all, but a grand new adventure for us to enjoy together. And how amazing it has been so far!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Time to Heal

Can I just start by saying, last year was amazing? The trips with Jason, so many adventures, the races, the PRs, all the running. The glorious running. I loved every single minute. So when the last race was run in December and my weary, broken body cried mercy, my heart broke a little too. And it was hard to shake the sadness and disappointment. As we decorated for Christmas, filled advent calendars, drank hot chocolate, wrapped presents, and got ready for a fun holiday season, inside I just wasn't there. I wasn't feeling it. My knee hurt all the time, no matter if I rested or ran, stretched or rolled, and I desperately missed running.

Finally Jason said something about how I hadn't seemed myself for a while, and it kind of woke me up. I realized running had become more important than it should. It had moved to a place in my life where it didn't belong. There should've been plenty of joy in my life without running, especially during the Christmas season. But I couldn't find it. I felt lost and sad, blah and frustrated.

As hard as it was to admit it, I knew running had become lord of my life, and I knew I had to knock it back down to its proper place. It felt impossible...but what is impossible with God? He's tackled much bigger, and while I couldn't see myself feeling differently, I had faith that He could help me do it.

I started with prayer. I picked up a book I'd been meaning to finish for months called, "Intercessory Prayer" and started over from the beginning. I bought a planner for 2017 from Ink and Volt that I knew would challenge me. It asked for a yearly theme, yearly goals, monthly goals, and weekly goals. As I worked on filling in the pages, I purposefully focused on my spiritual health, not the physical. No running goals, no fitness challenges, no eating resolutions. It was about renewing my relationship with my Lord, returning Him to his proper place in my life, returning to His Word and seeking deeper, more meaningful conversations with Him.

I also focused my goals on other things I love that had fallen by the wayside. Reading good books. Writing. Learning something new. Trying new recipes. Adventures with my kids. Returning to these things made me feel alive again. They reminded me there was more to me and my life than just running.

I did decide to go to the doctor and get some answers about my knee. I made an appointment with a local sports doctor, and pulled out my old 21 Day fix videos that didn't seem to hurt my knee too much. For my birthday (January 5), my mom got me a month's worth of unlimited Pure Barre classes, and I received a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and physical therapy from the doc (who diagnosed me with severe inflammation).

Since then I've been to three physical therapy sessions and four Pure Barre classes (so hard, but so good!). I run two or three times a week, usually 3-5 miles, sometimes with my running girls who I have dearly missed, sometimes alone to let my mind run free a bit too.

As far as learning new things goes, I'm taking an open water diving course, and Jason and I have a trip planned in February to do our open water test dives (he's already certified, but is taking a refresher course) and to swim with manatees - a long time dream of mine. I am beyond excited about this.

So I'm doing better. I have no idea if my knee is better because I'm still on the anti-inflammatories, but I have been mostly pain free for a few weeks, and that has been such a relief. I've found ways to stay fit that don't hurt my knee, and I do just enough running to quench the thirst, while letting my body heal.

And God is doing His thing in my heart and mind, as I have asked Him. I by no means have it all together - I have moments of disappointment, days where I don't turn to His word, and I'm still working on strengthening my faith and prayer... but that's the human condition. I don't intend to quit seeking and knocking and striving just because it's hard some days and I mess up others. While I don't always understand His forgiveness and relentless love, I don't doubt it for a moment and that spurs me on.

Returning God to his proper place as Lord of my life has returned my joy. Opening my eyes and remembering all the blessings in my life, finding pleasure again in the simple things like watching Eloise and Matthew play outside, holding my soft bunny, hot coffee on a cold morning, laughing with Jason, squeezing everyone tight... these have restored my soul again. God's word is a light to my feet once more, as I read of His amazing Son who came to earth, and all that He said and did while here.

My time to heal as changed from something I loath, to something I love, and I think that's how it should be.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down a the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Stats of 2016


So my amazing husband and partner in this crazy year of half marathon running has made this amazing Christmas present for me. I've got to take a minute to brag... because I'm just blown away by the fact that he came up with this design on his own and then executed it. Amazing, beautiful, fun, and impressive. Kind of like I view him. How did I land such a man? But I digress...

As I approach 2017, I wonder what it will hold. It looks like I may start the year with a big fat injury. Yep. Major bummer. I remained silent about it through most of the year because what was the point in mentioning it? Now, however, it has reared its ugly, knobby head to say, "HEY! YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT ME NOW!" And I've said okay, fine. I'm going on two weeks of no running... oh me. That's been hard, and I've felt like I'm waving goodbye to all my gains this past training season. I'm doing PiYo and weight workouts, and I'm visiting the most amazing massage therapist, Kim Susor of Meridian Acupuncture and Massage Therapy. And I'm trying to be patient.

The injury is another knee knob (see Knee Knobs and Foam Sticks from years ago). I fell hard while pregnant with Matthew in 2014, and a calcium deposit formed where I hit my left knee. It was no big deal until I started training harder and running more this year. The deposit (or knob, as I call it) sits right where all kinds of tendons and ligaments intersect, and the repetitive motion has caused quite a ruckus. About the middle of the year, it started to complain, but only for the first two minutes of a run. I used the Stick and foam roller, and kept trucking. Toward the end of the year it got to where it hurt for the first 2 miles of a run. I took a lot of time off before the final half marathon, and was able to do that one mostly pain free, but I paid for that afterward.

Since then, I've been doing the best I can while trying to recover and heal. I think the Lord is teaching me something here, but that's for another blog post.

The stats of 2016! That's what this post is supposed to be about! And how fun it is to look back and remember. What a wonderful year. It makes my heart swell as I allow my mind to run through all the experiences again. All the fun. All the early mornings. The hours in the car. Google maps. The triumphs, the flops, the laughs and special moments with Jason. Being sick as a dog in February. The brutal headwind in March. Jason running 4 extra miles off course in June. The crazy trail run through the Appalachian Mountains in July. Realizing I forgot my running shoes an hour before running through the night in August. A surprise PR in September. A first place over all win. Another PR in November. A sweet hometown run in December. The thrill or relief of seeing Jason around mile 12 of every single race.

I learned so much about myself as a runner throughout this journey. I thought my PR days were probably behind me, but that wasn't true. I discovered I prefer to race without music. I found a little competitive edge which spurs me onward even when I'm spent. I like pacers. A tough course doesn't necessarily mean a slower race. I'm stronger than I thought.

And now for the stats! I'm including the date, the race, the location, my time and any wins.

January 16 - Elkmont Half Marathon, Elkmont, AL - 1:56:39 (3rd AG)
February 28 - Seaside Half Marathon, Seaside, FL - 2:05:05
March 19 - Bowling Green Half Marathon, Bowling Green, KY - 1:55:34
April 2 - Oak Barrel Half Marathon, Lynchburg, TN - 1:55:11
May 21 - Viola Valley Half Marathon, Viola, TN - 1:48:47 (3rd AG)
June 4 - Hillbilly Half Marathon, Franklin, TN - 1:54:35
July 2 - White Lightning Half Marathon, Pikeville, KY - 2:00:54 (trails) (1st AG)
August 13 - Area 13.1 Half Marathon, Roswell, GA - 1:54:00
September 24 - Kentucky History Half Marathon, Frankfort, KY - 1:43:52 (PR and 1st OA win!)
October 3 - Little River Canyon Half Marathon, Fort Payne, AL - 1:52:07 (3rd OA female)
November 6 - BG26.2 Half Marathon, Bowling Green, KY - 1:42:02 (PR, 3rd OA female, 2nd AG)
December 3 - Panama City Beach Half Marathon, PCB, FL - 1:45:15 (3rd AG)

I cannot thank my family enough for all the babysitting. This would not have been possible without our moms and my sister watching our kiddos while we traveled and raced. What a blessing they have been to us. I cannot thank my husband enough for being willing (I think it was his idea in the first place) to go on this journey with me. I have loved every moment with him, every race date just the two of us, even if they started at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. And most importantly, I thank my God for this amazing, blessed year and all the joy and fun it has brought. From the gorgeous places He created for our pleasure, to the bodies that stayed strong throughout, the safety as we traveled miles upon miles, watching over our families and kiddos while we were away, the blessings He poured out over our marriage as we shared this experience... ALL good things come from Him and this year has been FULL of GOOD THINGS.

So that's a wrap. And while I have no idea what 2017 will bring, and while my heart aches a little over this silly injury, I remain full of gratefulness for what God has given me in 2016, and I have faith and hope that 2017 will be what He wants it to be. That is my prayer as I look forward to the New Year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Last Half


Last weekend Jason and I completed the last half of our 2016 year of half marathons. While the race itself was not overly great for either of us, I think what overshadowed it was the wonderful weekend we had in Panama City, and the fact that we had finally reached our goal of one half marathon a month for the year of 2016. That felt pretty amazing.

The weekend began with a 7 hour drive south. Upon arriving, we went to pick up our packets. My parents arrived right before we did (my mom couldn't pass up a chance to run a marathon in her old stomping grounds either - it was #86 for her), and my sister, Jessi and two of her girls were there too. That was a fun surprise. Jessi was running the 5k - her first in 3 years! 

After that, we headed to my dear friend Emily's house. This amazing friend and mother of 5 had agreed to keep Eloise and Matthew while Jason and I ran the half. Not only that, but she fed us our traditional pre-race meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with potato chips. After playing with her 5 precious children on Friday night, our two didn't give us a backward glance when we dropped them off at 6:00 Saturday morning.


Jason and I arrived at Pier Park in time to see the marathoners off, and I got to run a few steps with my mom and wish her luck. Then it was our turn. I was excited and hopeful and a little emotional. Part of me knew my body was done, and part of me was ready to lay it all out there anyway. It was our final half marathon. The end of an amazing year-long adventure with my one true love. It was a race in my home town. I even saw an old high school friend at the start of the race. I let all the significance, hope, love, joy, gratefulness, and strength fill me as I stood at the start line.

I had planned to start with the 1:40 pacer and just hang in as long as I could, but he started WAY too fast. Not the usual 10 seconds under goal pace, but over 30 seconds under pace. When I looked at my watch and realized I was running my 5k pace, I slowed immediately. I tucked in behind a tall, shirtless fellow I named "Snot Rocket" because he kept blowing them and there was a headwind. But because he was blocking me from that headwind, I more kindly referred to him as "Shirtless" in my mind. He was running a steady 7:45 and that was where I wanted to be.

But it felt hard. Harder than it should, and by mile 7 I was beginning to lag behind. I argued with myself. "Go! You aren't hurting, so go!" But my body wouldn't listen. I felt a deep fatigue from my shoulders down. I recognized it, and I fought it as best I could. I reminded myself that this was it! I could rest after this... but not yet. Not yet.

Jason was waiting for me at mile 12, and I was so glad to see him. My legs felt numb, but seeing him gave me a little boost, and I pushed on to the finish with him by my side. As I began to hear the loud music of the finish line, I told him I had loved this year with him, and I congratulated him on the completion of our goal. Then I ran on to do the same.

My sketchy mid-race calculations told me I'd finish in 1:48, and that was disappointing... but when I rounded the final corner, I saw the clock at 1:44, and I ran for it. I caught a guy in an orange tank top who had passed me earlier and he raced me in. That was fun. I finished in 1:45:15, and I was satisfied with that - especially given how I'd felt those last miles. It felt like a victory even though it wasn't a PR or a major win.


Jason finished third overall in 1:21, winning 1st Masters, and I placed 3rd in my age group. Jessi had also won 3rd in her age group in the 5k, and she was so excited! Jason and I drove back to Emily's to get Eloise and Matthew, chat with Emily and her fam a bit more, and then headed back to the race to see my mom finish her marathon and let Eloise play in the ocean. (Yes, in December...does that make us snow birds?)

We closed out our weekend Sunday morning at my old church, Jenks Avenue Church of Christ. Simply driving into the parking lot filled me with joy and nostalgia. It was upon attending this church in middle school that my faith really took root, grew, and became real and meaningful to me. The people I saw Sunday morning were my mentors in the faith, in the Word - real examples of the One we follow - Jesus Christ. Their love and example back then still remains strong in my heart today, and seeing them all this past Sunday was wonderful. I hugged so many necks and saw so many dear faces... it was definitely a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic weekend.

The weekend was a blessing to me, and that had little to do with the actual half marathon we ran, although that was special too. I can speak for both of us when I say Jason and I were relieved to be finished. It has been an amazingly fun year, but racing a half-marathon every month takes a toll. Even though my body is tired and sore, my heart is full, and I am grateful for the adventure it has been. I am grateful for every race experience, grateful for this beautiful country in which to run, grateful for those who helped us make it happen by keeping our kids, grateful for my partner in life who ran it all with me...

I have no idea what 2017 will hold for us, but I will enter it filled with gratitude for what 2016 has been, and that is what matters most.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Running Home

The last time I ran a half marathon in my home town of Panama City, FL, I was 15 years old. It was my first half marathon, and while I was probably strong enough to have done well, I had not done the training required to do well. I'd run one 10 miler in my life and that was after a boy I had a crush on called me on the phone. And that wasn't close enough to the half marathon to count as any sort of training.

This was NOT the finish of the half-marathon, but it is around the same time.
My mom was a relatively new distance runner herself, and she told me what I needed to do to train, but then she left me to it. I was a very independent, I'll-do-it-on-my-own kind of runner. It was my time, and I was very possessive of it. I used to run after cross country practice if I didn't like the workout we'd been given. I used to run right when I got home from school so my mom wouldn't ask to go with me. I think it was the only way I ever rebelled as a teenager. (Well... that and listening to Guns N Roses on the sly.)

So I took my training (or lack there of) in my own hands and showed up for that half marathon with no idea what I was in for. And it was bad. Really bad. I was dead dog last. And by that I mean the cop car had moved on, and the aid stations had closed. There was no water or Gatorade or people... just me running alone along the bay, wanting to sit down on the side of the road and cry.

I did cry when I saw my mom and her friend, Maggie, running towards me. Maggie had a water bottle in her hand, and she filled it at some random building so I could have a drink. I have no idea what mile that was or what my finish time was. I do remember the finish clock was still up, and a few kids from my high school were there because they heard someone from Mosley was running.  It was kind of a big deal. This was before running was a big thing.

All I cared about was getting to sit down, but my legs ached so badly, not even sitting helped. I think Maggie or my sister - someone took me home and I got into a hot bath, finally finding some relief. Later, my mom brought me my medal - I had won first place in my age group. Ha! 

A lot of running has taken place since then. A lot of mistakes, races, training, learning, growing, and changing has taken place since that first half marathon. I'm now 36, and I've run faster and farther than my 15 year old self ever imagined. It has been a fantastic journey.

So this year, Jason and I decided to run a half marathon every month. That has been another fantastic journey and experience all on its own. I have absolutely loved traveling to and running these races every month with him. Being parents of two young children, all of these moments together have been treasured, looked forward to, savored and enjoyed to the fullest.

Our 2016 journey comes to a close as we approach December and our last half-marathon, which happens to be in Panama City. I will once again run a half marathon in my home town.

I have looked forward to this race ever since we planned it early this year. I don't go home very often since my parents retired and moved closer to me and my sister, but it holds a special place in my heart, and I have some very dear friends and sweet memories there. My hope for this final half marathon was to make it my strongest, fastest one of the year... but as it draws closer I'm beginning to wonder if the best hasn't already been for me this racing season. The truth of the matter is I'm pretty worn out. My last half marathon was wonderful, and it was a PR... and it took a lot out of me. Since that race I've had a hard time rallying, and I'm easily tired.

Even so, I'm still looking forward to it. Despite how I feel right now, I have 10 days before the race, and I can spend that time resting and recovering. I still plan to show up at the start line ready to give all I have. I'm not sure what I have left, but I'll put it all out there.

One thing I do know, I probably won't be last. I can think back to that 15 year old girl running her first half marathon and smile. That 15 year old has come a long, long way on her running journey, and no matter the result of the next half-marathon, I believe there is still much more she can do.