2020 Orlando Utility Commission (OUC) Half Marathon

OUC1

“I plan on having such an epic run, Morgan Freeman should narrate it”.

(Runner’s World)

Running and racing has become such a large part of my lifestyle that I felt a definitive loss in 2020.

I will not harp on the COVID-19 impact on our daily lives.  There are more important things in this world than me traveling around the country and chasing people in my attempt to gain a personal record (PR) in the half marathon.  Everyone who reads the Walk into the Future blog or listens to me long enough know I love my PR attempts. 

My 2019 progress set the stage for me to run even faster in 2020 while tackling more races and new locations.  I targeted 7 half marathons to complete in 2020 with an incremental decrease in my PR time for each race I ran.  My goal continues to be to run the half marathon distance under 2 hours.  I will need to bring out the Benjamin Button affect again at some point to reach this goal. 

Luckily, I was able to complete the 2020 New Orleans Rock N Roll half marathon in early February before we knew the future impact of COVID-19 on the country.  I left New Orleans with a goal to train harder and get ready for the 2020 Nashville Rock N Roll half marathon scheduled for April—Nashville is my favorite race and city.  Missed seeing the sights in Nashville and line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon.  Maybe in 2021!

Races 2 (Nashville) through 7 (San Antonio) were all canceled/postponed/terminated due to COVID-19.  Most of my running friends wanted to race but we knew eliminating the races was the right thing to do.  I still trained but not with as much intensity because I did not have a finish line to run across.  I wrote earlier about the virtual race process but never felt the same excitement racing against myself.  Could not make myself run fast without someone else around for me to compete against.

Fast forward a bit and my favorite running club, Track Shack in Orlando identified they received Orange county and City of Orlando clearance to stage the 2020 OUC Half Marathon in December with new safety measures.  I did not immediately sign-up but got excited when I discovered a real race was possible again.  I did a lot of research on the Track Shack race safety measures to make sure I would not be at risk during the event. 

The entire race experience was adjusted by the Track Shack staff to keep all runners physical distanced before and after the race.  We were required to wear masks prior to starting the race and immediately after crossing the finish line.  We did not have to run with the masks on but had to have them for the finish line.  Runners were lined up in corrals based on estimated finish times, but we had to stand on assigned markers on the ground before we could start the race.  Felt a bit weird but everything was done to protect the runners.

I registered for the OUC half marathon on October 15, 2020 with a race date of December 5, 2020.  This timeframe gave me less than a two-month physical and mental preparation window for the 13.1-mile journey in front of me.  Decided at this point to just enjoy the training runs and eliminate the thought processing of chasing a PR.  This concept provided me with a free mind and gave me the perspective that completing the race was the most important thing.  Thing #2 was to run the race and not hurt myself! 😊

OUC3

Race day

The Orlando weather was a bit warmer than I expected but the cloud cover kept the sun away which helped a lot.  I did not queue up close to the front corrals since I knew I was not going fast this year and wanted to let the faster folks go out without me in the way.

The new safety measures allowed about 200 runners to go out at a time, so I ended up waiting about 20 minutes before I made it to the start line to begin the race.

Mask off and I was back in my world of racing!  I am sure people wondered why I was smiling so much but the joy of running was there at the beginning.  My first mile pace was 8:50—which was not too bad considering my goal was to go out nice and easy.  Felt good so I kept running at this pace for a bit to see what I had under the hood this year. 😊

A fun fact–at the 3-mile marker while running through a downtown Orlando neighborhood I passed the house of one of my old on-campus recruiters from my UCF days.  He was standing on his front lawn cheering on the runners with his daughter.  Did not know if he would recognize me in my running gear but I was able to say hello to him and invite him to recruit students at my new school.  Please note, I never broke stride but was able to successfully network with an Orlando recruiter while running a half marathon. Completed a Zoom call with him the following Monday and he is excited to recruit our students in the spring semester—small world, huh?

Miles 3 through 8 were my parade through Orlando neighborhoods.  I waved at spectators who were out on their lawns to cheer for the runners.  I stopped at a pop-up table serving shots of beer as a refresher during the race.  I thanked law enforcement officials who were there for traffic duty.  You would have thought I was a politician with the amount of smiling, waving, and speaking to people I got done during this race.

Miles 9 through 13 were not as enjoyable as the previous set of miles.  Limited training also means my lactic acid thresholds were not built up as they should have been.  This means my legs started to hurt and it only got worse the longer I went.  I have been here before, so I was able to press forward but my speed and demeanor changed quite a bit.  The smile was gone, and I did not feel like waving at folks anymore.  Had to bear down and keep moving forward towards the finish line.  Luckily for me I was not chasing records and just wanted to complete the race while enjoying the process of running again.

Crossed the finish line with a smile on my face because I was able to run and compete again.  COVID-19 has beat us up in 2020 but it could not keep me from running in one of my favorite cities.  Mission complete!

The post-race area was sparse as part of the safety measures.  No beer, doughnuts, or music to enjoy this year.  We were handed a Publix bag with water, banana, granola, and our race medal.  That was it—no fanfare, networking and hanging around to cheer other runners on.  Run, conquer, and go home was the message of the day.

No worries, we had a great day to race and fantastic people to chase around Orlando again.

Fingers crossed that racing returns in 2021—I have a few PRs to set! 😊

What are you looking forward to in 2021?  Let’s make it happen!  Irie!

“You never realize how long a minute is until you are running”.

(Pinterest)

Back to the Great Smoky Mountains

“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”

(William Britten)

Let us go ahead and admit it—2020 has been a tough year for us all!

COVID-19 has adjusted how and who we interact with these days.  Not a complaint but a simple fact that has become necessary in 2020.  A major adjustment for me has been the concept of travel. I got a kick out of labeling myself a running tourist, but this has been almost nonexistent in 2020.

I decided to make another trip to the Great Smoky Mountains for a quick and physical distanced getaway prior to Thanksgiving.  I enjoyed myself so much when I hiked in 2019 so wanted to come back to the mountains and find the peace and fresh air again.  Happy to report the Smoky Mountains, fresh air and peacefulness are still there—love the ability to get there and just escape for a bit.

My 2019 Smoky Mountains experience and talking with friends allowed me to do more research and plan out my hikes this year.  I just rode around and then stopped when I saw something interesting in 2019.  I felt like a seasoned hiker in 2020 and made plans for which trails I made a trek on and the order.  Felt like I had a better understanding of the hiking process this year and this allowed me to make all the hikes I planned with minimal issues.

Hiking the Smoky Mountains

The weather was fantastic again this year.  The morning temperatures started around 45 degrees and warmed up to the low 60s while I was in the mountains.  Perfect hiking weather for me—I layered up and was able to shed layers as the day got warmer.  I also carried a small backpack this year to carry my water bottles and put my extra layers in when needed.

Discussed trails in the Smoky Mountains with one of my friends who is an avid hiker.  She provided me with additional inspiration to get back out in nature and enjoy the process. 

Found the following site that describes trails by location, features, distance, and difficulty:

http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/location.htm

Used this information to make my hiking experience better this year. 😊

Started my 2020 hiking adventure on the Gatlinburg Trail which has a trail head right on the edge of downtown Gatlinburg.  I hiked the Gatlinburg Trail in 2019 but it was more of a warmup type hike for me this year.  Wanted to fully explore the Gatlinburg Trail and take it from the trailhead all the way to the end which is about 2 miles. 

The end of the Gatlinburg Trail runs directly into the Sugarland Welcome Center and the Sugarland Trails.  I hiked this area in 2019 but decided to adjust my route and the distance in 2020.  There were a lot more people out on this trail and my goal was to make my way to Cataract falls and get some good pictures.  Cataract falls is a major attraction in the Sugarland Trails area, so everyone wants to stop and get pictures there—only spent a few minutes at the falls before it was time to move on down the trail.  Bumped into a couple from Wisconsin who decided to ask me for trail directions—I helped them as much as possible but explained to them I live in Florida and I am just out walking in the woods.  Guess it is a good thing they felt comfortable enough to stop and ask me for direction.  People are friendly when in the mountains. 😊

Cataract falls

Decided to head further up into the mountains to tackle my next adventure.  Research shows the Clingman Dome as the highest elevation in the Smoky mountains.  I did not feel comfortable making the trek in 2019 but put it firmly on my 2020 adventure list.  Thought of it more as a challenge and wanted to get to the highest point in the Smokies to get some great shots. 

The drive up was nice—I wanted to stop and take pictures but decided to get up the mountain and take pictures on the way down.  The cloud cover or smoke in the mountains got thicker the higher up I drove.  That is when I realize how far up the mountain I had traveled because I was in the clouds on the ascent.  Amazing experience and one I will repeat as often as possible.  There is peace in the mountains!  The area attracted a large group of visitors, but everyone was friendly and gave each other space for pictures and the trek up to the Dome.  Please note, the trek up to Clingman’s Dome is paved but the incline is extreme, and the elevation is over 6,600 feet.  This was the first time I noticed hikers taking breaks on their way up the mountain.  I soon realized the altitude and incline would impact me as well.  I did not stop moving but my pace was a lot slower than it was when I started the climb up.  I also realized I left my water bottles back in my vehicle but did not stop climbing higher.

I will report the climb up to the Clingman Dome was well worth the pain!  The views were covered in smoke (clouds) but you could still see the peaks and valleys below.  The wind whipping the clouds around sounded like the clouds were singing—amazing being so high up in the Smoky mountains.  The Clingman Dome borders right on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines.  I crossed over into North Carolina on this portion of my hike.

I took a quick detour on my descent from the Clingman Dome and ventured onto a portion of the Appalachian Trail.  Decided it was worth the trip since I was already high up in the mountains.  I did not go far on the Appalachian Trail because this portion was very rocky, and I wanted to save my legs for my next trail adventure I had mapped out.

https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm

My last trail was the Chimney Tops Trail, and it was well worth the hike.  The trail description identifies the difficulty as moderate which it may be, but this was my fourth trail of the day and my legs were screaming all the way up the trail.  I would recommend doing this trail first if you visit the Smoky mountains or do it on a separate day.  The hike up the mountain is very scenic and offers multiple opportunities to take some great pictures.  The terrain changes multiple times on the ascent but it is an exciting hike.  I had to stop and take breaks multiple times on the Chimney Tops Trail.  This was due to the fact I had been hiking multiple trails and probably should have deferred this trail for the next day after getting some rest.  Discovered a new mental toughness as I slowly made my way up to see the views I had read about. 

I almost gave up on making it to the top but a fellow hiker who was coming back down gave me a little extra inspiration to make it to the top.  He casually said to me, “You are only 4 minutes away from the top”.  I think we both knew he was lying to me to keep me going forward but surprisingly it worked because I put a smile on my face and kept going.  I made it to the top about 15 minutes after encountering my hiking friend and was extremely happy I did not give up.  The views and the feeling of accomplishment were well worth the leg pains I endured to make it up the Chimney Tops Trail.  Mind over matter came into play while making this hike and I am happy I made it to the top.  We can accomplish anything we put effort into, and the Chimney Tops Trail become my Mount Everest! Pun intended! 😊

http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/chimney.htm

The descent down from Chimney Tops was just as beautiful as going up.  My legs were in better shape to walk down the mountain after I took about 30 minutes to just sit still at the top and admire the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.  I recommend you visit it if you have not been there because of the peacefulness the mountains bring.  The hikes are a great distraction and provides an opportunity to get out and get some exercise at the same time. 

Skybridge

Decided not to do the Gatlinburg Skybridge this year because the lines were too long, and people were not practicing physical distancing while standing in line.  I will try the Skybridge again on my next adventure back into the mountains.

https://www.gatlinburgskylift.com/skybridge

Moonshine tasting

Yes, I made it back to the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery to get more moonshine.  They have added a few new flavors this year and I got a chance to taste them all.  Some I liked and others were not that great—not a huge fan of the flavored moonshine (Sour Apple, etc.).  I was shocked they were out of my favorite moonshine, Blue Flame which is 128 proof.  They replaced it with a 10th Anniversary edition which is the Ole Smoky Moonshine 153.  Yes, that is 153 proof moonshine!  It has a kick to it, but I played it safe and got my tried and true White Lightning which is ONLY 100 proof. 😊 Will make the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery a regular stop each time I am back in Gatlinburg.

https://olesmoky.com/collections/moonshine

Got all of this done the weekend before Thanksgiving and still was able to enjoy time with my family as we gave thanks for 2020.  It has been a tough year but there are still things to be thankful for.

Thanks to you for reading my words and following my adventures!  Here is to a great end of the 2020 year and a better 2021—let’s make it happen!

Irie!

Running tourist—the Treasure Coast edition

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out what you put into it”.

(Oprah Winfrey)

Shared my running tourist Tallahassee adventures in an earlier post.

Decided to tackle the subject from my new home, Fort Pierce, Florida earlier than I did from Tallahassee.  The Tallahassee post was written when I knew I was leaving the city and realized I never took the time to write about things available there.

Wanted to get an early jump on writing about the Treasure Coast.  I am sure I will come back to this topic and provide an updated view when the COVID-19 pandemic is gone.  Most things in this area are still closed or I am not confident enough to visit yet.  There are a ton of fresh seafood markets and restaurants in the local area but do not see me going in for a meal right now even with proper physical distancing.

A good spot for takeout is 12A Buoy:  http://12abuoy.com/.  Do not know where the name came from, but they have good shrimp!

Running routes

My first two attempts to find a place to run in Fort Pierce did not go well.  I got my runs in but did not enjoy them very much.  There are not many multipurpose trails here so got out for a sidewalk run to stretch my legs.  Turns out the sidewalk I was on ended after about a quarter mile and I was relegated to running on the side of the road.  Not a huge fan of this process but did discover a nice hill and made the most of it to maintain endurance.  Never went back to this route since it had me too close to traffic.

My second attempt at finding a place to run was at my complex.  We have a large circular route (.59 miles) and I thought maybe this would get me going.  Never been thrilled going in circles but gave it a shot. My initial goal was 5 miles total, but I only got in 3.5 miles before boredom tapped me on the shoulders and I stopped.  Not a huge fan of seeing the same things when I run, and this route did not have the feel of being on an adventure—which I need for distance training.

Decided to use Google to find better spots to run.  Google identified the George LeStrange Preserve as a place with trails and it was only a 10-minute drive away.  Decided to scout the preserve and it provides multiple options with the best route going around the lake.  Again, this was a circular route but longer and there’s wildlife, shade, the lake, and people to see while in the preserve.   Enjoyed this location so much I make sure to get over there for one of my weekly runs.  Completed my Nashville Rock N Roll Half Marathon dedication run there in April to get 13.2 miles in since the actual race was postponed.  Posted a decent time considering I had no on-course support, crowds cheering or beer at the finish line.

 

A work colleague provided his favorite running spot which goes over the large, picturesque Sea Way Drive bridge and leads to Jetty Park.  I initially viewed this route as an extremely tough run since the bridge is so big, but it appears my hill training in Tallahassee prepared me well to get up and over the bridge.  Enjoy this route because there is so much to see while running and there is always a nice breeze coming off the water to help minimize the heat.  I have leveraged this route multiple times for my Tuesday and Thursday runs—leave work and head east to get my 6-mile run in.  Used an over and back approach recently to get in a double digit run—nice views each time on the bridge. 😊

 

Beaches

The beaches in the local area opened again the last week in April.  The county mandate was people could be on the beach just for exercise.  This lasted for 4 days before the governor lifted the stay at home order and the beaches opened fully with a mandate for people to maintain physical distancing.  I have gone by the beaches to get a look and feel for them but will explore fully when it is safe to be out again.  I have visited Jetty Park multiple times and sat in my vehicle to enjoy the views of the water.  It is a good place to watch people and the boats floating by.

 Beach

The Treasure Coast is comprised of Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, Jensen Beach and Stuart, FL.  These cities are all modest size but when viewed together comprise a large area.  My goal is to fully explore them all and then come back and write about the unique features of each.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

What areas are you looking forward to exploring when it is safe again?  Thanks!

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

(Andre Gide)

FYI—the beaches are closing again for the 4th of July holiday weekend!  COVID-19 is not going away.

The Wolf of Networking

Wolf of Networking

(Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay)

“Networking is an enrichment program, not an entitlement program”.

(Susan RoAne)

My Walk into the Future continues to provide me with opportunities to make a difference daily.  It helps that I have opened my eyes and mind to all possibilities and the opportunities keep presenting themselves to me.  The journey moves forward!

The title of this blog article references the Wolf of Networking.  I have identified myself as a People Builder, running tourist and Inspiration Man in multiple posts.  Well, say hello to my next moniker, Wolf of Networking! 😊

I selected this new moniker to have fun with a project that has been years in the making.  My past roles in university career services allowed me to build and maintain a network with recruiters who primarily hire recent college graduates.  I was responsible to find, network and recruit these recruiters to come on-campus to hire students.  My unit put on career fairs, networking events, professional development workshops and scheduled on-campus interviews to connect students and recruiters.  So, this put me in a prime position to learn inside information on how different organizations created their on-campus recruiting programs.

The Wolf of Networking had to compete with other schools for recruiters’ attention and resources to ensure our students got opportunities.  Happy to say we won more battles than we lost and maintained a robust on-campus recruiting program at multiple schools (UCF and FSU).  Shared tricks of the trade with other wolf packs (UF, USF, FAU, FIU) to help them become more successful getting employers on their campuses.  Found it was easier to keep employers in Florida if other schools were viewed as attractive options—I am competitive but also practical.

I leveraged the Wolf of Networking status to build my handpicked wolf pack and I am happy to see the great things they are doing around the country at prestigious institutions.  We stay in contact to ensure the pack continues to grow.

Went back to my wolf pack mentality recently to help a tree branch network with recruiters for future employment.  This tree branch had heard about my contacts but did not fully understand how connected I still am in the college recruiting world.  Happy to say they get it now! 😊

I was presented with a list of 9 organizations of interest for future employment.  I had professional contacts with 8 of the 9 organizations on the list.  Some of these contacts are also personal friends so it was a bit easier to get them to respond to my requests.  My tree branch now had people inside the organizations they wanted to work for looking out for them.  Nothing was promised but my network was looking out for my tree branch just as I would.

I tell people I work with you are always networking even when you do not know it.  Look for ways to benefit others and then when you need a helping hand people will respond to you.  Think my tree branch will look at the Wolf of Networking from a different perspective now.  The wolf makes positive things happen! 😊

Who can you help reach their goals?  What action steps are needed for a successful outcome?

 “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives”.

(Michelle Obama)

 Network Tree

(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

2020 Wolf pack:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-apgar-m-s-38ab4035/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurenkume/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mforges/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/vrhanikuhaynes/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-a-collins/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jadevite/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/pagetisdale/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaylabriwilliams/

Running tourist—the Tallahassee edition

Running tourist

(Image by 272447 from Pixabay)

“He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him”.

(Dutch Proverb)

Shared my running tourist moniker with a group I was networking with last week and was surprised they never heard it before.  I am sure I cannot be the first to use it to describe going to other locations for race adventures but thought maybe I should try to copyright the term. Nope, just Googled it and others use the same term to highlight their running adventures too. 😊

Decided it was time to look at the running tourism I see daily in my current home of Tallahassee, Florida.  Sometimes we take things close by for granted and never truly engage/enjoy them as much as the fun travel destinations (Nashville, New Orleans, Philly, etc.).  Please note, I get out and about as much as the next person in Tallahassee but never documented much in the Walk into the Future blog.

Running trails

I have referred to the many trails and places I train to prepare for my races.  Tallahassee is known for the multiple parks, trails, and greenways available to explore.  The terrain goes from very flat surfaces to high degree inclines which are perfect to help prepare for races around the country.  My early running years in Tallahassee were mostly contained to Lafayette Heritage Park and the Alfred Greenway.

Looking back believe I stayed with these running environments because they were close by.  I simply walked across the street to get on the paved trail that took me into Lafayette Heritage Park—the Alfred Greenway is on the opposite side of the park.  Both venues provided a good foundation to running for me and looking back did not provide a huge challenge to navigate.  I still utilize both trails when I am out to just stretch my legs.

Tom Brown Park provides additional trails (paved and unpaved) to log training miles.  I normally run through the park as part of a loop I can take to get additional miles in.  My 5 – 8 mile runs all include some portion of Tom Brown park.  Like the fact I do not have to carry water through the park since they have multiple water fountains and restrooms available.  Great place to watch people and see all the happy dogs with family in the dog park.  The dogs always seem to want to run with me for some odd reason! 😊

Graduated my long runs out to the St. Marks Trail.  The St. Marks Trail was an old railroad route from Tallahassee down to the gulf coast.  It is a place to see bikers, hikers and runners all utilizing the marked trail every day of the year.  I like the fact the trail has mile markers which makes it easy to log my runs—no guessing when I want to get a 12-mile run in.  The St. Marks trail has well maintained restrooms and a few water fountains, so these are perks I enjoy while out for my runs.

There are other places to run in Tallahassee, but these are the areas I utilize when I am writing about my training program.

Downtown

Tallahassee does not have a huge downtown area but provides a few unique experiences.  Was introduced to the museum scene by a friend who is native to Tallahassee.  The Florida Museum of History is a must see if you visit.  You can trace Florida’s history from the 1600s up to World War II.  The artifacts and stories of how Florida developed are interesting and worth the trip.

The Capital building is a great place to visit and get a bird’s eye view of Tallahassee.  The 22nd floor has a panoramic observation deck which lets you view the city from the highest vantage point. It is also a great way to exercise if you decide to walk up and not take the elevator.

Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille and Andrew’s Downtown are two good places to get a meal and drinks when visiting downtown.  This is a college town so there are multiple watering holes to visit close by.

My favorite place to hang out, drink beer and eat just happens to be a local dive bar, Corner Pockets.  I would never go to Corner Pockets when I first moved to Tallahassee because I thought it was a pool hall.  They only have two pool tables and they are in the corner, but it is more sports bar than pool hall.  They have the coldest beer in town and some of the best bar food you can find anywhere.  Prices are good and the staff is friendly.  Corner Pocket attracts sports fans, so you must arrive early on game days to ensure you get a seat—standing is allowed but I like to sit at the bar and watch multiple TVs.

Again, there are other spots in Tallahassee, but I am sharing where I hang out. 😊

FSU / FAMU

This is a college town and FSU and FAMU are the large schools here.  The students provide a huge population boost during the academic year.  The sports fans/alums who come back for sporting events also provide unique experiences since traffic doubles when the home teams are in town.  This creates a more festive environment and celebrations across neighborhoods.

I am a Gator fan so do not partake in much of this until the Gators come to town! 😊

So, there you have it—these are a few ways the running tourist enjoys life when not on the road.

What are your favorite venues in your area?  How often do you get out to enjoy them?

“Time flies.  It’s up to you to be the navigator”.

(Robert Orben)

Please note, wrote this article before I left Tallahassee for Fort Pierce.  Still wanted to share.