Sunday, August 03, 2014

How I Do It

People ask me all the time how I handle Chasen being gone for so long on his trips to China. At this point, I'm an old pro! He started going 2-4 times per year when Isaac was 20 months old, so I have plenty of experience. Here's what I do.

Before he leaves, a few things must be addressed.
  1. The exterior lights on our house must all be working. Safety first!
  2. The yard must be in tip top shape. It must look well cared for and occupied!
  3. Any minor household repairs must be completed (slow draining showers or finicky toilets, etc.).
Once he is gone, the work on the inside of the house begins.
  1. I thoroughly clean the house, and I try hard to keep it that way. It makes life easier. 
  2. I do all of his laundry, so that his closet is clean as a whistle. I'm a recovering neat freak, you know.
Our lifestyle changes a bit when we are alone, mostly for ease and safety.
  1. I cook a big meal every three days or so. Leftovers are key!
  2. We spend a lot of time outdoors, weather permitting, and then we bump up bath time to before dinner (of leftovers!) to make for an easier evening.
  3. I try to not overload myself with extracurricular activities. The simple life is best.
  4. We almost never go out after dark. If my car is going to break down somewhere, I'd rather it be during the light of day.
  5. To that end, we almost never leave town while Chasen is gone.
  6. I take advantage of my big, empty bed (in which I sleep like an "X," according to Chasen) and go to bed as early as possible.
That's really it. It's easy peasy. Even so, concerned people always come up to me (especially at church) and ask how we are "holding up." It makes me laugh. We've definitely been around the block. We've only had trouble twice, and each time someone from our church has quickly come to our rescue, as well as my neighbor (who is better than 911). There ya have it!  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Land Between the Lakes 23k

Back in December, my casual (read: 99% on Facebook) friendship with a woman named Kathlene turned into an actual, real friendship when she began asking me about CrossFit. We worked out together a few times, and we even went running together. That's right -- yours truly kinda sorta has a running partner after all these years. Sometimes we'd run together and then do CrossFit afterward. I know, I know... we might want to get our heads examined. I've heard that before!

She knew I was training for the New Orleans Marathon, and she asked me what my plans were after that. Since I had recently found another "driveable" race to possibly check off my 50-states list, I told her: the Land Between the Lakes Trail Run (marathon) in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. It wasn't a done deal, though, because a) I needed to see how NOLA would go, and, b) Chasen would likely be out of the country, which would present a childcare problem. Lo and behold, Kathlene's parents have a nice RV setup really, really close to the run, and she could accompany me and keep Isaac. Hmmm... the wheels started turning.   

After NOLA I hemmed and hawed, and I even contacted the race director, since the deadline for a guaranteed medal had passed. He gave me his word that, if I signed up by the weekend from the link he personally sent me (!!!), I'd get a medal. By golly, I pulled the trigger. I wasn't sure how it would go, as I have very little positive experience on trails (yes, you need to read that post from 2007!) but I wasn't going to let that stop me from this red carpet trip. 

Isaac and I picked up Kathlene and her son, Jack, and we headed to Kentucky. We saw lots and lots of snow (for these parts) along the way. It was bewildering to me, as ours was long gone. 

Here we are outside the small, friendly race expo.

I got a nice zipper bag.

I've never had a hot pink race shirt before. I love it!

After the expo (Kathlene's first!) we walked down to the lighthouse/marina area. LBL is simply gorgeous, snow or not. 

You just can't beat that view.

Both Isaac and Jack were given nice, green caps. Isaac tossed his in the water (and got in big trouble).

Here's my sweet pal who made all of this possible.

And here is the lighthouse of "Lighthouse Landing."

LBL is a boater's paradise.

After being blown away by the scenery, we headed back to Kathlene's parents' RV. I had never actually stayed in an RV, so I was quite excited. Isaac was even more excited and actually referred to it as "his dream come true."

For two nights we got to call this place home.

It was snowy, slushy, and muddy. Naively, I thought the trails would be OK. The communication from the race director indicated that they were in decent shape. Nonetheless, my boy needed something other than running shoes to romp around in. So we went shopping. 

My Mississippi boy insisted on camo rubber boots. Whatever floats his boat... and keeps his feet dry.

I had my more-often-than-not pre-race dinner at Cracker Barrel.

The next morning, Kathlene drove me to the race start (at Lighthouse Landing) at 5:40 AM. The race was to begin at 6:30 AM. Why so early? Because there was also a 23k race (14.291 miles), a 60k, and a 50 miler. Phew!

There go the runners, ready to face the trails!

Even though we stopped at a McDonald's on the way to the start, because the camper did not yet have running water hooked up for the season, would you believe that I had a Code Brown as soon as the race began? NOT GOOD. Believe me when I tell you that I ran as quickly as I possibly could to the first port-o-potty, which was at the end of the asphalt. So long, asphalt. 

I decided a few days ahead of time that I was going to run Garmin-free. After all, this was going to be a new adventure for me. And, per my post from 2007, I needed to pay attention to nothing else but the trail ahead of me. 

Look.At.That.Snow.

Here I am just before the asphalt ended. Asphalt, I'll miss you.

The port-o-potty and the first water stop, as I said, were at the end of the asphalt. This is what I faced next: hard packed snow with patches of ice, slippery slopes (there is no such thing as a flat trail at LBL), and very, very slippery mud. Sigh.

Miss Priss was jumping streams left and right! This one is tiny, by the way.

It was very pretty, I'll give it that.
 
The entire course was 1, 2, 3, or 4 loops. The marathon was 2. 

Untouched.

Navigation. No miles markers, but signs here and there.

This is an example of "easy mud."

I only took photos in the beginning, when I found the whole trail thing to be novel and interesting. I was initially among some other slow-ish trail people, but it quickly turned into me being, as I have since said, "all alone in the woods like Grizzly Adams." It would have been OK, but I was having an extremely hard time staying upright. If I wasn't sliding down into a stream, unintentionally, I was turning both ankles, slipping and sliding, and getting sopping wet feet in the process. That wouldn't have been the end of the world, mind you. However, with no Garmin and no mile markers, every time I'd approach a water stop as the trail approached some asphalt (thank God!), I'd be shocked by how little progress I was making. I knew I'd be slower on trails, but man oh man... this was going to take all day. And that'd be fine.

Or so I thought.

Once I got to the other side of the lake, the trail actually got worse. At this point the super fast people had looped me, and they were zooming past me like this was no big deal. Mind you, I was having trouble just walking. Seriously. I was only at mile 7.something when the volunteer asked me what mile I wanted to be at when I looked shocked to find out my location. I said "26.2." The whole table chuckled. 

Back into the #$%& woods I went. I had been talking with Kathlene from time to time, and she'd ask "Where are you?" (meaning, which mile?) I'd answer "I don't know... somewhere in the @&*$ woods." That's the truth. It seemed to be getting steeper and steeper, muddier, slicker... you get the picture. Never one to quit (never!) I thought "I can't do this. I've got to get out of here." But there was literally no way out. At the very least I had to complete the 23k loop. I called the race director (from the $#@* woods) and asked if I would be permitted to drop back to the 23k distance. He said that lots of people were doing so. That was comforting, but I still had miles to go. Miles. In the $&%* woods. 

Just after that I fell in the mud and jarred my back something fierce. Ouch. It really hurt. I thought "Girl, you might have to crawl out of these $%&# woods." 

Finally, by the grace of God, I hit the asphalt. PRAISE HIM!!! There was a man who would alter my bib to indicate the 23k distance. Happily, sir... mark that baby in red!    

Two loops happily became one. 

Kathlene and the boys were waiting on me. Awww!

I still had 1.7 miles to go (on asphalt!) and Kathlene said she was going to go with me. I thought that meant she was going to follow behind with the boys. Nope! She walked and ran that final 1.7 with me. Her hubby and mom (known affectionately as Mimi) drove the boys.

There's me and my camo boot wearing baby crossing the finish line.

I was given a key chain for the 23k distance. Yes, a key chain.

Dried mud. This actually doesn't look that bad.

Nor do these shoes. The iPhone has a way of prettying things. 

It's a pretty key chain, at least. And hard earned, for darn sure. 

We all went to get some lunch, including me and all of my mud. Then I finally got to take a much needed shower at the campground's bath house.

It says "MAW" on the wall. The men's side said "PAW." Cute!

Here are my dirty feet and swollen ankles. 

Here's my recap. If I had known just how treacherous that trail would be, I would have never signed up for this race. If I had know about the severity of the snow and ice, I would have never signed up for this race. If a course elevation map had been offered, I would have never signed up for this race. Alas, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Are trails for me? N-O. Now I know. I thought my Missouri and Idaho races had prepared me. Nope. They were just rural... not "real" trails. Again, nothing ventured, nothing gained. While this is technically a DNF, in this case I believe it stands for Did Nothing Fatal. It took me 5:00 to make it 23k. Yes, FIVE HOURS. That's a 21 minute pace. I would have been out there over 10 hours  for the marathon, most likely, and who knows what all kinds of injuries I would have sustained. 

Want to know what good came from this? I had a fantastic time camping with some awesome people. Isaac had the time of his life getting filthy dirty with Jack. I've found a gorgeous area for a family vacation. I now have a very easy to beat 23k PR. See, all is not lost. And, it was a pretty inexpensive weekend. 

His shirt, a present from Kathlene, will be applicable another day.

Marathon #14 looms ahead, and it may even be in Kentucky. Who knows? I can't wait. I'm gonna kick some asphalt!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Double Unders

Ever since I began doing CrossFit, I have struggled with my capabilities. Believe me, I have a LONG way to go. L-O-N-G. But, occasionally, I do something that really surprises me. Back in December I discovered that I could do a handstand. Yep, me, the 39-year-old who has never taken a gymnastics class. 

Thank the Lord my coach snapped this pic. Otherwise, I'd never believe it. Ha. 

That's the thing about CrossFit. It's all about doing things you never thought possible in a very supportive community/environment. Trust me - everyone there was cheering me on. 

CrossFit is also about finding your weaknesses and working on them. As I said, I have LOTS. In particular I couldn't squat worth squat! My coach has worked tirelessly with me on that. I'm happy to report that I have improved quite a bit. 

Contrary to popular belief, it's not all weight lifting. In fact, it's only a third of it. It's about combining Olympic lifting elements, gymnastic movements, and metabolic conditioning. So there's a lot to focus on! I'm not the strongest person out there, but I am improving. I've worked myself up to a 165# dead lift, a 135# back squat, and a 100# front squat. And, I can now easily swing a 35# kettle bell. 

Like the handstand above, for me in particular, some of the more fun things to work on require only your body weight and coordination/balance. Come to find out, I don't have a lot of coordination/balance, which is why the handstand was so shocking. 

One thing I did NOT take to instantly is called a Double Under. It's a jump rope movement in which the rope should pass under your feet TWICE during one jump. Tough stuff! Mind you, prior to 2013 I hadn't jumped rope since probably 1987. Since it's such an excellent conditioning element, I asked for my own jump rope for Christmas. I was, by golly, going to work on my double unders.   

I only got my first double under back in January. I was so excited about it that I screamed and did my "only at CrossFit happy dance." Last Saturday I actually surprised myself and did sixty of them, one.at.a.time. I was so proud. I really didn't think I could do it. 

With Chasen traveling in Asia for the longest period of time ever, 14.5 days, I decided that I needed a special project to keep me busy. I call it "Susan's Double Under Camp." Each day I am working on my double unders. 

On day 1 I tried desperately to get two consecutive DU's, but I couldn't. My goal, period, is two. I came close, but I just couldn't get the right rhythm. On day 2... I got two!!! I did it multiple times, in fact. I was on top of the world. Today, day 3, it took a while, but I got three. Three! I did it a few times, to my amazement, and then decided to try to video myself so I could figure out how to be more rhythmic and efficient. You'll never guess what happened next.      

video
I got SIX in a row!

I believe the video speaks for itself. I was shocked! It goes to show that practice and perseverance pay off. My technique has a way to go, but I am going to continue to try to improve, day by day. Mark my words. I'm fired up about these doubles!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Baked Cilantro Lime Herbed Chicken

I have come up with another super easy, nutritious chicken recipe! Per the usual, it's an adaptation of someone else's recipe. My BFF sent me this link. She's always on the lookout for paleo-friendly recipes for me. Love her!

We had snow today in North Mississippi, and, trust me, that's rare. It's way below freezing, and I wanted a dinner that would both warm me up and stick to my ribs. This adaptation was a home run! Here's what I did:
  • In a gallon size baggie, I sliced and squeezed a lime, as well as a few tablespoons of cilantro.
  • To that I added about a quarter cup of olive oil and a bit of garlic.
  • Then came the motherload of spices, all "just a dash" or so: oregano, basil, paprika, onion powder, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary. 
  • I put four chicken breasts in there, shook it all up, and let it sit on the counter for an hour or so.
  • Into a 9x13 pan it all got plopped. Easy peasy!

 I baked this for AN HOUR at 400 degrees. 

At the halfway point I added one sliced sweet potato. Remember me wanting something that would stick to my ribs?

Ah, the finished product!

People, this.was.good. Even 5-year-old Isaac loved it. I can't wait to have leftovers tomorrow. I'd venture to say that it'd still be delicious (and oh so moist!) if you left out a spice or two. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Isaac's Fifth Birthday

Well, folks, we've hit another milestone. My sweet, little Isaac is now a big five-year-old. I won't say the usual "Where has the time gone?" Truly, it seems like five years. Five glorious years, that is, of being a stay-at-home mom who has not missed one moment. Thank you, sweet hubby! 

We settled on a minion theme this year, as in the minions from Despicable Me I & II. Isaac LOVES those movies, as do most small kids. Heck, I love them, too! And, minions are the bomb diggity. So, as a non-Pinterest person, I immediately started googling "minion party ideas." I knew what had to be done.

 Minion cupcakes! Yes, with Twinkies. Easy peasy.

My big boy helped me make those cupcakes. His official duty was to press the eyeballs onto a dab of black frosting. He loves to be a helper.

He woke on his birthday (2/15) and I presented he and Chasen with matching Spider-Man ties. A fellow stay-at-home mom in Georgia makes them (affordably!) and takes custom requests. 

 Look at those two. Am I lucky or what?

We headed to our church about two hours ahead of the party to set up. I had been working for over a week on all of the decor. Phew - a "home grown" party is a lot of work. 

 There's my tippy-toed fella standing underneath a minion welcome sign.

 Food table. Yep, I painted that sign.

 I love the minion lemonade dispenser.

 The goody bags look like the evil minions. Notice the innocent looking popcorn.

 Two long tables were plenty to seat the minions... err, little boys.

 Chasen worked many nights painting all of these "minion bowling pins."

 Family selfie, aka the calm before the storm.

The next thing I knew, we had thirteen little boys running around! Literally, they did almost nothing but run around. It made me wonder why I put so much time into decorations and games. But, Isaac had a great time, and that's what counts. 

 Pin the goggles on the minions got a lot of laughs.

 Those guys loved the sparkle candle!

 Here's most of the crew. This was before they ground popcorn into the carpet. Ugh!

These boys' lives were enriched on this day, as most of them experienced Twinkies for the first time! If you ask any of them, though, I bet they'd say their favorite parts were the minion cupcakes and running around playing tag. Ah, little boys, gotta love 'em.  

This is most of Isaac's loot.

We're so fortunate to have so many sweet pals for Isaac, most of whom attend our church. I know they're about to become a bit "scattered about" with everyone attending different kindergartens in the fall (yes, this fall!) but I hope some of these little guys will be his lifelong friends. And I look forward to many more birthday parties!

Running Conversations

Last week I had the privilege of being featured on the Running Conversations podcast! If you haven't heard of it, let me break it down right now. Adam "Zen Runner" Tinkoff interviews runners of all abilities, ages, mindsets, and locations about anything and everything. In my case he wanted to hear about my recent New Orleans Marathon experience. We chatted for about 40 minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can listen to it here. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

New Orleans Marathon

Marathon #13 is in the books! And, it was a doozy of a journey. One of the reasons I chose the New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is because of the awesome medal. Duh! Another reason was because it was within driving distance (6 hours, anyway). The final reason was because I have a very, very sweet friend, Robin, who recently relocated to the general area. Her son and Isaac are friends, so we arranged for the two of us to stay with her for several days. Score! She'd be able to keep Isaac for me while I was running the marathon, and he'd have a fun time with his friend. That's a win-win.

Isaac and I left at 9 AM on Friday morning. The race wasn't until Sunday (Super Bowl Sunday, that is). I have to say that he did an amazing job during the long drive.

A movie and some popcorn is all it takes, most of the time, to keep him happy.

We pulled into downtown New Orleans just past 4 PM. I was excited to take Isaac to the race expo with me. He's getting so big! I knew he'd enjoy seeing all that was there.  

There he is with his trusty pal, Stinky Dog.

These Mardi Gras beads greeted us. 

We got my race bib, timing strip for my shoe, shirt, and loot bag. Then we walked around for just a bit. I'm not a big race expo person. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. But this was Isaac's first large one, so I stuck it out for a while.


Ha!

I really, really like my charcoal grey technical tee. 


Isaac wanted to carry my things.
 
After the expo we headed out to Robin's house in Houma, Louisiana. My phone directed me on a 90 minute journey there. That felt longer than the drive to New Orleans. But we finally made it.

Here are Isaac and Charlie, enjoying some cupcakes from our hometown.

And here is Isaac wearing Charlie's "shrimp boots."

On Saturday morning we all headed into New Orleans to do some sight seeing. After a lunch of grilled shrimp, we toured the very neat Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Then we walked along the riverfront area. That is where IT happened: a seagull pooped on my arm. I thought someone had thrown a rock at me! Then I discovered what it really was. Eeewwww! I thought "This has got to be some sort of good omen, somehow." Ha. 

Here we are along the river. It was a gorgeous day.

After a streetcar ride and some more walking around, we got ready to call it a day. Robin had arranged for us to stay at her sister's home that evening in nearby Metairie. That would mean only a 10 minute drive to the race for me, and I greatly appreciated that. 

After dinner I laid out all of my gear, and that included putting my timing strip on my shoe.

I slept alone in Robin's niece's room that night, and I slept well. I was a little leery about only having ONE alarm set, but I trusted that everything would be OK. Even when I stay at hotels with three alarms, I usually wake up before my phone tells me to. So at 5 AM I was up making eggs and getting ready.

Here I am all ready to go, for the most part.

I got the the premium parking lot with ease. You see, this race started and finished miles apart. So, unless I got dropped off, I'd have a long walk back to my car. The extra $20 spent on the lot by the finish line, as well as the shuttle to the start, was money well spent.

For a race this large, I anticipated the lines for the port-o-potties to be very long. But they weren't. That's a first! Of course, there seemed to be hundreds of them. Say what you may about the Rock 'n' Roll races, but everything seemed to be very well thought out, logistically. 

I made my way to the starting area, and I discovered my corral, #15, was blocks and blocks away. The race was just that large! I finally got there after the gun had fired, but this was a wave start, so I had plenty of time to spare. In fact, I didn't start until 7:28 AM. So what did I do for almost a half hour? I people watched, waited for my Garmin to find signal, and I observed the FOG. There was lots of it. Chasen later told me that New Orleans had 93% humidity when the race began.  

Lots of fog!

Lots of St. Jude Heroes! Memphis REPRESENT!

I finally got to start! Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" was blaring.

The first few miles were downtown, like most city races. It was muggy, people. If you don't know humidity, consider yourself lucky. It wasn't very hot, thankfully, but it was sticky. It was still pretty clear, albeit misting rain. Then it got super foggy. 



There I am chug-chug-chugging along in the fog. 

I heard lots of off-color comments about running under the inflatable Brooks man.

Speaking of off-color, there were at least a few off-color signs along the course. I was shocked! I can only remember one right now, and I certainly won't repeat it.

Here's a good one.

And another very New Orleans one.

While I look determined in this photo, I appear to have a Kim Kardashian rear. I really don't. 

I have to admit that the first half of the race was filled with doubts. After the fiasco that was marathon #12, I had reservations about potentially running in the rain. A month or two before the race, I had doubts about running, period. I'm thankful for several amazingly supportive friends who kept on encouraging me to make it to New Orleans. But, once the misting rain turned into a downpour, I thought "I'm done. I'll just come back next year, stay with Robin again, and it'll all be alright. It's a fairly easy drive. I don't have much money invested in this." Thankfully that rain lasted only a minute or two, so I persevered. After all, I hate the idea of quitting. I may be slow as molasses, but I don't quit.

Shortly after leaving downtown, we headed down beautiful St. Charles Avenue, which is lined with mature trees. They provided both shade and a bit of an umbrella from the rain. Almost the entire rest of the course was an out-and-back, i.e. you could always see speedy people who were miles and miles ahead of you running the opposite direction. That was, at times, a tough pill to swallow. On the other hand, it was great for people watching.

One of the toughest parts of races for me is when the halfers turn off to head to their finish line. You can hear the hooplah, and you wish you were nearly done. But the glass half full approach is that you get to celebrate being half done already, and the runners thin out quite a bit. So let's go with the latter!

I left the city park/finish area and headed down another long out-and-back that lead me to Lake Pontchartrain. It was during this long stretch that I had an epiphany. I truly did. I discovered that, once and for all, I truly do not care about my marathon time. I just don't. I want to run the race, enjoy it, enjoy the scenery, and get my medal. I love every second of it, even when I'm struggling. There ya have it. If I ever get faster, that's great. But if I never do, I'll be perfectly content.

Lake Pontchartrain brought me a lot of clarity, wouldn't you say?

It was a long, long distance out by the lake. With the exception of 2 or 3 small bridges, this course was flat as a pancake. So I had lots of time to think! The turnaround was at mile 19 or 20, I think. So, not only did it feel good to get to the 20's, it just felt good to turn around and "head back home." As a bonus, I discovered that I wasn't the last runner! I encouraged lots of people who were not yet to the turnaround. 

Past mile 20 --get this!-- I passed people left and right! My body felt good, and my homemade energy bars were doing their job. I may be slow, but I'm STEADY. (At least I was this day.) I was just so happy to be out there! I mean, running marathons is what I live for! So, like I said, I don't care how long it takes me. It's my happy place. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful water stations. Different groups staffed them, including tiny cheerleaders, girl scouts, boy scouts, Hash House Harriers wearing red dresses (men, too!), and, my favorite, a group of white haired cajun gentlemen. At mile 24 or so, when I'm sure I wasn't looking so wonderful, one said "You got dis, dahlin!" Another said "Guhl, you almost done and you know it!" Ha - I loved it. 

Finally I was within a half mile or so of the finish line. That's always the longest half mile of my life. I was spent, but I made it to the start of the chute. I channeled some hustle and bee-lined it for the end.  

I'm coming, I'm coming!

An announcer, perhaps the race director, was standing with a microphone on the course and said "Here comes Susan and she's got her arms up and she looks ready to finish." Brother, ain't that the truth!

He high fived me, and I loved it. 

I crossed the finish line and, as always, was happy as a clam. There is no better feeling in the world than completing a marathon. 

Happy, happy, happy!

Love!

Aaaaaaand the bling! This makes it all worth it.

See, best medal in Louisiana! What an experience. Even though it took what seemed like an eternity to get to my car and get out of those "devil shoes," which is what I call running shoes after 26.2, I couldn't wait to call home and tell Chasen about it. And I was so excited to show Isaac my medal. Good times!

I headed back to Metairie, got cleaned up, and then we all headed back to Houma and actually watched the Super Bowl a bit. Isaac and I slept like the dead that night. Go figure. We headed back to Southaven the next morning. I fared well during the long drive. Either due to my change from heel striking to running on the balls of my feet, or because the course was so flat, my quads had very little soreness. I could actually walk down stairs pain free! 

I'm not exactly sure when #14 will be, but I know it'll be fun. Keep running, friends, and don't stop believing!