Celebrating Life

First things first, time to announce my Vega Energizing Smoothing winner.  Congratulations JenniferLynn I will be contacting you shortly for shipping details.

Now that I have that out of the way, I want to talk about today.  Today used to be just plain ol’ November 16th, nothing fancy to it, no reason to pay it any special attention until 7 years ago.  On this day, November 16, 2005, my family found out that my brother had been killed in Iraq. Instantly, November 16th became a day that I would never forget.

I still remember every single detail about when and how I found out, what time of day it was, even what the weather was like outside.  It’s fascinating to me how our brains lock in certain details and keep them forever.  I will probably be able to recall the same vivid details when I’m 80.  Some day I’ll share them, but this post isn’t the right time.

Roger had been killed with several other Marines while searching farm houses for terrorists as part of Operation Steel Curtain.  They came under gunfire and a terribly fierce battle erupted that altered the lives of countless people.  My brother was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his heroism.  I encourage you to read the short citation from his Bronze Star; it gives you some idea of what happened that day.

This is from the memorial in Iraq. So many lives lost in a period of 3 days.

From Roger’s funeral; just a few days after Thanksgiving.

Each year on this day I stop by and visit my brother and say hi to him from my Mom and Dad since they live too far away and can’t.  I drop off flowers and give him an update on what’s going on.  I try not to play the ‘what if’ game but, inevitably, I’m going to lose and sometime today I’ll find myself wondering ‘what if’ he was still here or some variation of that scenario.

While this is a very sad day by all means, I try not to let the past dictate my happiness.  I choose to celebrate life instead of pine over death.  I choose to remember my brother and all the silly/dangerous/ridiculous things we did together as kids.  All the fights we got into.  All the advice he passed on to me.  His infectious grin.

And tomorrow, I choose to be a kid again.  I will run carefree through the streets of New Orleans in a tutu while strangers throw powdered paint at me.  (Sounds like fun, right?)  When I signed up for The Color Run last February I knew that it would fall this weekend and I thought it would be a wonderful way to celebrate life.  Roger was a fun guy and I can imagine him having a blast throwing paint at random people.

Everyone deals with grief differently.  It’s ok to be sad, angry, numb, confused, whatever.  But it’s important to remember that it’s also ok to be happy.  Nothing says that you’re bound to sadness; it’s a choice that’s made and I choose happiness.  I choose to cast my excess baggage on God and let him carry the burden for me.  After all, his shoulders are much more broad than mine.

The first year after Roger was killed I dreaded today like the plague.  I didn’t know what to expect or how I would  react.  Over the years, I’ve realized that if I make a conscious effort to address that this day (or other significant days like his birthday) are going to be emotionally charged, I have a much better chance of it not affecting me.  It’s the times I’m not prepared that really catch me off guard and knock me on my butt.  Trust me, I have plenty of spontaneous pity-parties during the year but today, and this weekend, will not be one of them.

To say I’m excited about The Color Run tomorrow would be an understatement.  I have been talking about this race since before I even knew it was coming to New Orleans.  There’s just something about finishing a race looking like an Oompa Loompa that really appeals to me.  I have all of my neon gear and I’m ready to go get pelted with paint! I know Roger would have liked that.

I miss my brother dearly and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, the other families that lost their hero, and also the men that were survived.  I honestly think today is much harder for those Marines that survived and I pray for peace of mind for them.

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Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

In Wednesday’s post I recapped my weekend fun around DC and at the expo but I left you hanging for my race recap.  Sorry, that wasn’t very nice.  Forgive me?  Since this was my first marathon and because I ran it in memory of my brother I really wanted to put some serious thought into the recap; he deserves it.  So bear with me, this is going to be a long post and have lots of pictures (you’re welcome Mom & Dad).

In the interest of making the recap easier to read, I feel like I need to introduce you to the two names you’ll see the most.  1.) Mary – She’s like a mom to me.  2.) Stacey – My die hard training buddy and constant race partner.  Now that you know these girls I can just call them by their first names. 🙂  So here it is – the good, bad and the ugly from the MCM.  (Ok, there really wasn’t any ugly.  I just like being dramatic.)

Sunday morning started with an early wake-up call.  Mary’s alarm went off at 3:45a.m. (which is really 2:45 my time).  I had my alarm set for 4:12 but once I heard her alarm go off I was wide awake.

It was race day! The day that I had been prepping for for the last four months.

I got up, got dressed, ate some breakfast and of course snapped a few pictures.  Mary surprised me with her shirt which read on the front, “I’m with the birthday girl”.  I loved it!!

After we put our shoes on, we (Mary, myself and our hubbies) walked a few blocks to the race shuttle.  I chatted with a lady who was running the marathon and told her this was my first one.  Have you ever noticed that people always have input when they find out something is your first? She immediately likened running a marathon to giving birth.  It’s long and painful but 100% worth it at the end.  Sheesh lady! I didn’t need to hear that – I don’t have kids for a reason and labor is one of them.

After we made it to the starting area we were surprised to find that the military chaplain was just starting a prayer service.  This just made my day.  It was amazing fellowshipping with other believers right before the race.  Definitely helped get my mind right.

After the prayer service ended Mary and I said goodbye to our hubbies and then huddled together to try to warm up.

It was cold, humid, and I kept getting splattered with random drops of rain.  I said a quick prayer that Hurricane Sandy would hold off long enough for the race to be done with.  We hit the port-o-potties a few times and headed off to the official start line where we heard the National Anthem and watched the flyover.  It was incredibly moving.

Right after the flyover we met up with the girls I trained with.  It was so great seeing everyone’s smiling / nervous faces!

Just a few minutes to go.  The atmosphere was electrified; the excitement and tension almost palpable. Veteran marathoners encouraging the newbies, newbies nervously watching the actions of the veterans.  25,000 sets of feet with the same goal to accomplish.

I was too busy soaking in the atmosphere that I didn’t hear the howitzer blast which signifies the start of the race.  However, I felt the crowd start surging forward, pressing me towards the start line.  No times for nerves now.  This. Was. It.  I crossed the starting line and embarked on my journey through the 26.2 miles of the course.  (This is where I put my camera away so there aren’t many pictures until the finish.)

The first few miles of the course were gorgeous, winding through the outskirts of the city.  It was completely picturesque with vibrant golden, cardinal, and amber colored leaves floating around us as we ran.  It was very overcast but the temperature was perfect and there wasn’t any rain.  The only downfall was the fact that the course was so congested it was hard to get up to speed without literally running into someone.

At mile 5 I opted for a potty stop; I knew the lines would be shorter earlier in the race verses later.  It was around this point that I happened to look over into the woods and BAM hello naked booties.  Apparently some runners didn’t want to wait in the potty line.  My mom taught me better.  I tried to not look over into the woods again.

Everything was going  flawlessly until the water stop around mile 7.  This is where Mary and I got separated; thankfully Stacey and I were able to stay together.  I stopped a few times to look for Mary and I kept thinking I would be able to spot her and reconnect.  After about 2 miles I knew that wasn’t going to happen so I did something most runners would never do.  I pulled out my cell phone and started making calls in hopes of locating her.  I called my husband to tell him I what happened and kept my fingers crossed that he and Greg (Mary’s hubby) could help us reconnect.  I managed to keep my pace but I never imagined I’d be talking on the phone during my first 26.2.

I was so upset about loosing Mary that I didn’t notice a lot of what was going on around me between miles 8-11.  Around mile 12 a guy behind me decided to try to use me as a speed bump.  Not on purpose; the race was just so congested with runners that this was almost inevitable.  I felt what was about to happen as his shoe brushed mine and I was able to dodge him falling on me.  I turned around just in time to see him writhing on the ground clutching his elbow in pain.  I felt terrible but there was nothing I could do.  It was also around this point in the race I noticed someone had put large pictures of Marines that had been killed in action.  This was a much needed reminder as to why I was running this race in the first place.

The miles were flying by. 12…13….Half marathon….15…and before I knew it Stacey and I passed mile 16.  I looked over at her and said, “I hate to be the one that points out the obvious, but we only have 10 miles left!’  I was feeling great and our pace wasn’t too far off from what we trained for.  I passed Mary’s husband at mile 18 who told me I was about 10 minutes ahead of her.  I ran backwards for a little bit (I got some crazy looks from other runners) and then made the decision to stop and wait for her; it was much more important to finish together then worry about time.  (I looked at my splits and my time for mile 18 was just short of 21 minutes.) Stacey was sweet and hung back, too, and as soon as we saw Mary we took off.  I had never been so happy to see her face!

The miles kept ticking by and before I knew it, I was looking at mile marker 23.  We passed my hubby on the sideline and it gave me such a boost to see him cheering us on!

This is a really awkward shot of mile at mile 23. All smiles after seeing Jody.

By mile 24 my body was starting to fatigue.  I was having some fairly intense GI cramps (I broke the cardinal ‘don’t ingest anything new on race day’ rule) and I could feel my right IT band starting to get tight.  The wind picked up (thanks Hurricane Sandy) and I was starting to slow down.  It was right around this time that we were treated to Dunkin Donuts on the course.  They were stale but gave me the sugar kick I needed to finish. I need to mention that the crowd support was amazing during the entire marathon but especially encouraging during the last few miles.

The last part of the race ended with a killer incline leading up to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  This was a tough way to finish but I really wouldn’t expect anything less from the Marines.  Stacey, Mary and I crossed the finish line together and I just remember giving both of them a huge hug.  I had become marathoner!

*MARATHONER*

The sweet Marine that placed the medal around my neck.

I had anticipated bursting into tears as I crossed the finish line but I was surprised to realize that I didn’t shed a single tear.  As we stood in line to collect our medals, my calve muscles and IT band on fire, I couldn’t help but think about how excited I was to already be signed up for my next marathon.   I think I’m officially hooked.  Admittedly, one of my character flaws is that I’m always thinking about what’s next, instead of basking in what just happened.

We got disposable jackets instead of space blankets.

Me being silly showing off my medal and Semper Fi socks.

Hands-down, the best athletic supporter ever!

The official chip time was 4:55:47 (only one second different from my Garmin) and the actual distance was 26.75 miles (I guess that’s what happens when you run backwards for a bit).

This was such a huge accomplishment and even though I didn’t run it in the time I trained for, I have no doubt that I can run a 4:30 marathon.  It’s important to remember that some races aren’t about time but merely the journey itself.  Preparing for this race was very cathartic and really allowed me to work through some residual issues with my brother’s death.  I miss Roger terribly but I feel like I have more closure and I’m so blessed to have run this race in memory of him.

It was humbling running side-by-side with amputees, men in wheelchairs, and seeing all the pictures pinned to people’s shirt.  The race was not nearly as physically or mentally exhausting as I thought it would be and I think it’s because I kept thinking about everything that Roger, his brother’s-in-arms, and all of our deployed soldiers went/go through.  If they can fight to keep me free, I can run 26.2 miles in honor of them.

As for how I felt physically after the marathon, I was {pleasantly} surprised at how little I hurt.  I was pretty stiff Monday but was back in the gym Tuesday for some easy cycling and upper body strength training.  And since my next marathon is in 3 months I’ll be getting up early tomorrow for a 10 mile run.  If you have ever considered running a marathon, I urge you to do it. Don’t let fear, hesitation or self-doubt get to you.  It takes grit and determination but if you can commit the time, you can accomplish it!

Question:  What’s your proudest accomplishment in life? A PR? An award? Children? College Degree? Tell me, I love hearing about your achievements!

Freedom

Happy Memorial Day everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying this amazing three day weekend.  I just got back from a quick trip to Colorado where I was spoiled with awesome, humidity free running weather with temps ranging from 40 in the morning to 70 in the afternoon.  It’s such a switch coming back to Mississippi where you’re immediately assaulted by the hot temps and humidity.

Ah, lovely Colorado. How I miss your gorgeous scenery and perfect temps already! (Side note…I have no idea why the picture is date stamped 1995…..)

While I know we all love a good three day weekend (no matter what the reason) it’s especially important to recognize the reason behind this particular extended weekend.  A bit of history first.  Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, while not a federal holiday until 1971, was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, as a way to honor the lives that had been lost during the Civil War (both Union and Confederate were honored).   Hundreds of thousands have sacrificed their lives protecting America in countless wars.

Biloxi National Cemetery. Final resting place to approximately 17,000 of America’s finest men and women. This was taken Memorial Day 2011.

Fast forward 138 years to Memorial Day 2006.  This was the first Memorial Day that I fully realized that the three day weekend I had always enjoyed was more than barbeques and picnics; that it was a gift given to us, purchased with the blood of heroic men and women.  Four of those men are pictured below.  On November 16, 2005, they made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can continue to enjoy our barbeques and picnics.   Thank you to all who have given their lives to keep me (us) free and all of the men and women currently serving to keep us free!!

As you enjoy today, please take a moment to reflect on the reason why we’re able to enjoy it in the first place.  Then grab your spouse, kiddos, friends (heck even a stranger. Ok, just kidding on the stranger bit.) and head to the beach or a barbeque; it’s a beautiful day to enjoy your freedom!