6 Years & Running Strong

Today is a special day for me.  It was six years ago on May 26, 2010 when I started my journey as a runner on the Kokosing Gap Trail in Mount Vernon.  I was 35 pounds heavier and was looking for some way to get in better shape.

CapCity Sports Media www.capcitysportsmedia.comFast forward 2,192 days later and that running journey has taken me through 17 states, 11,890 miles, and several dozen pairs of running shoes all the while introducing me to many great new friends and exciting adventures.

I shared a lot of my running history last year in a blog and there is no need to go into all of that again.  Over the past 366 days since that blog, there have been ups and downs.  I battled plantar fasciatis throughout the summer and eventually suffered a broken left foot on August 13 while on a run.  That led to 12 weeks of no running and very limited activity until the end of that recovery process.  However, I tried to find other ways to stay involved in running by supporting others and still going to races.  I’m not going to lie…it was HARD!  But, I realized that I can’t take running for granted.  Just like other things in life it can be taken from you in a blink of an eye.  Live in the moments and take full advantage of things while you can.

Ironically, despite all that time off due to the injury, I still had one of my best running years yet as I managed to log 2,229 miles.  I ran my fastest half marathon time in February as part of my training for the Boston Marathon, and I completed Boston for the second year and bettered my time with a 3:28:48 for my ninth marathon finish in 6 years.

One of the highlights of my running this year has been all the time I spent getting to know Nashville on foot as I have been there for work.  It’s a great running town and I’ve made several new running friends there and logged lots of miles.  I hope to run a race there at some point.

I’m looking forward to training hard but smart this summer and staying injury-free while preparing for a fall marathon when the weather is a little cooler.  Who knows where the journey will take me this year!

Back to Boston

13015463_843150638850_7772319922997962584_nI am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to take part in the Boston Marathon for the second straight year this past Monday.  Last year, I posted a 3:44:27 at less than 100 percent.  Fortunately, I still had a qualifying time to get me in for this year.  Despite breaking my foot in August, I patiently worked my way back to at least close to my best shape yet.  I had a big confidence booster in February with a half marathon PR, and I was able to get lots of training on rolling terrain due to traveling to Nashville a lot for work.  I went into this year’s Boston Marathon gunning for a 3:15 and felt like I had a good plan of attack in place to accomplish that.

It was nice to have a day and a half in Boston prior to the race in order to take in a few tourist things and also spend plenty of time at the race expo including picking up that all-important race bib.  After walking over 11 miles the day before the marathon last year, I made sure to not be on my feet as much this time around.  It was also great to hang out with some friends that I don’t see often enough and eat at some great local restaurants.  One of the biggest highlights was going to a special service on Sunday morning at Old South Church which has been around since the mid 1600s and is located right at the finish line of the race.  They honored all of us running the race and had special music with Chariots of Fire on the pipe organ and even a bag piper.  I highly recommend visiting this church the day before the race to anyone who earns that coveted BQ.  I also logged a nice shakeout run along the Charles River after church on a picturesque day (see below).

13012814_843027600420_4217263282889041150_n

Finally, race day rolled around and with it a 70-degree starting temperature.  Yikes!  As someone who runs most of my miles predawn and definitely not in that kind of heat so far this year except when on a treadmill, the temperature and bright sun were definitely real concerns for all of the runners.  However, I didn’t adjust my plan other than to try to grab drinks at as many fluid stations as possible on the course.

12985369_843043149260_2362070881478414685_n

I road the bus to Athletes’ Village with my running partner, Cindy Warner (see below), and it was great to pass the time with her instead of being in the midst of thousands of strangers.  We spent all of our time waiting to start by standing in line for port-a-potties.  We were smart, though, and picked lines that kept us in the shade under one of the large tents.  We were also well lathered up in 100 SPF sunscreen.  Well, except that neither one of us thought to put it on our legs and we both ended up with toasty red calves.  In the midst of all the people waiting, we did see our friend, Dan Bosch, and were able to wish him good luck as he headed to the starting line with his wave.

IMG_8126

It was finally time to head to the starting line and after I made one last bathroom stop we were on our way with 26.2 miles to cover between Hopkinton and Boston.  I stuck with Cindy for the first quarter of a mile and started to settle into my pace.  I finished the first mile in 7:45 and was really happy with that as I didn’t want to start too fast.  Over the next nine miles, I tried to stay steady with splits of 7:24, 7:28, 7:26, 7:36, 7:26, 7:29, 7:34, 7:23, and 7:23 to get through mile 10.  I slowed a little during the next mile with a 7:38, but I quickly got back on task with a 7:30 and a 7:25 to cross the halfway point in 1:38:50…right on track!  Wellesley and the girls of the scream tunnel had lots of energy as always, but unlike last year I stayed in the middle of the road this time and tried not to get caught up in it as I knew that I would need all of my energy and focus to try to meet my goal.

baa2016Miles 14, 15 and 16 went by with splits of 7:33, 7:44 and 7:33 as I stayed on track and started into the challenging Newton Hills.  Then, during mile 17, I nearly came to a screeching halt when I dry-heaved and started to realize that the heat was affecting me more than I realized.  I had been drinking regularly alternating between water and Gatorade and I had also taken a Clif fuel pouch at miles 5, 10 and 16 as well as pouring water over my head to try to stay cool.  I struggled through miles 17, 18 and 19 feeling nauseous with splits of 8:01, 8:28 and 8:05 as if the hills weren’t tough enough without feeling like I was going to throw up.

Finally, between mile 19 and mile 20, I did come to a screeching halt.  I walked to the side of the road and lost everything I had left in my stomach.  Or so I thought because 30 seconds later it happened again.  I felt bad for the poor spectators who were standing a few feet from me on the side of the road and I noticed mothers shielding their young kids’ eyes.  I sheepishly apologized for what had happened, but for the first time in my nearly six-year running career I had tossed my cookies.  Twice.  And I still had seven miles to go to earn my Boston Marathon finisher medal.

I rinsed my mouth out with the water I was carrying, took a deep breath and decided to see if I could get the legs to turn over again as I set out to attack the hill that awaited.  I knew that walking to the finish line would take me another two hours and I really wanted to avoid that if at all possible.  Then, I spotted it…just the fuel that I needed.  I ran to the opposite side of the road and grabbed a green freezer pop from a generous spectator.  The cold, sweet icy goodness refreshed me and I picked up the pace and started passing people.  My Garmin shows that I stopped for one minute and 48 seconds when I got sick, but I still ended up finishing mile 20 in 9:48 and then attacked Heartbreak Hill and finished that mile in 8:05 followed by an 8:07, an 8:19, and an 8:26 to get through mile 25.

baafinish2016The wind had picked up and I was fighting to push through it to get to the finish line that still seemed so far away.  Then, I started to get very light-headed over the final mile-plus as I was seeing black spots.  I’m sure this was because I was scared to eat any more of my planned fuel over the final 9 miles after the initial dry-heaving incident and was just trying to make it to the finish line.  Mile 26 was a 9:35 and then the turn on Boylston Street saw me pick up the pace to an 8:40 to get to the finish line where I crossed with my arms raised in 3:28:48 to finish 7,362nd out of 26,639 finishers overall and beat my bib number which was 8172.  (Boston bib numbers are seeded so the lower the number the faster you are compared to the rest of the field.)  It was great to have made it to the finish line even if I didn’t get the time I was shooting for.  I knew that I had given my all and that’s all that mattered.  Plus, I was 16 minutes faster than last year.  848 people who started didn’t finish and after 48% of the field re-qualified at last year’s Boston only 16% did this year due primarily to the heat.  I was also 5,830th out of 14,471 men overall and 1,077th out of 1,994 men in the 40-44 age group.

Within about 90 seconds of crossing the finish line, I found myself in a wheelchair as things started spinning and I nearly blacked out.  I fought hard to pay attention to what was going on around me because the medical person told me that if I sat in the wheelchair for 10 minutes that I had to go to the medical tent.  I told her to let me know when I was at 9:30 and then I made myself get up because I was supposed to meet Cindy at the finish line and I knew that she didn’t have her phone and wouldn’t be able to find me if I wasn’t at the predetermined spot.  It took everything I had to get out of the wheelchair, but I did and then hung on tight to a railing while I waited for her to finish.  I got another volunteer to give me a bag of potato chips and the salt started to perk me up enough that I spotted her as she was heading my way after setting nearly a two-minute Boston Marathon PR in the tough conditions in her third time running the prestigious race.  What a welcomed sight!  We had both made it!!!

While my time may not have been what I was originally hoping for, I am so proud of my effort and determination in this one.  Sure, it would have been great if the temperature would have been 20 degrees cooler and the sky would have been cloudy.  But, just like in life, things rarely go perfectly and the true test is adapting to the situation and doing the best you can.  I can say that I did that on this day!  I’m also proud of all my friends in addition to Cindy who battled the elements.  Great job, Dan, Ken Varian (sub 3:00 in that heat – Beast Mode!), Bryan Stansberry, Megan Morris, Molly Stout, Ryan Arens, Jason Homorody, Laura Anderson, and Ron Hayes.  I will not be going for a Boston three-peat in 2017, but I’m totally okay with that.  It’s a truly special event and it should be earned every time.

IMG_8144.JPG

A huge thank you to the BAA and the city of Boston for putting on a great event and the truly amazing spectators who simply won’t let you not finish the race.  There were lots of great signs along the course, lots of high fives to give, and yes, the dude around mile 14 who had a $1 bill firmly in his hand got a good laugh when I tried to grab it.  He turned to his buddy and said “got another one!”  Ha ha!  Such a great experience and I can’t wait to see what the next adventure will bring.

And The Winner Is…

This year’s March Madness contest ended with a bang as Villanova hit a buzzer-beater to down the only remaining No. 1 seed North Carolina to claim the NCAA title 77-74.

juan poonOf the 51 people who entered my seventh annual bracket contest sponsored by Outback Steakhouse, only Adam Jackman correctly predicted that Villanova would win it all.  Unfortunately for Adam, his picks in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight kept him from claiming the overall title in this year’s contest as he came up 40 points short of the top spot by finishing with 1100 points.

Congratulations to Juan Poon (left) for winning this year’s title and along with it the coveted $20 gift certificate from Outback.  Juan was the only person in the contest to correctly have picked both teams in the championship game and his early success helped to overcome the fact that his beloved Tarheels did not captured the trophy as he had predicted.  He finished with 1140 points.

Michael MacEachern, who was at or near the top in every round, finished third with 1040 points, while Hannah Miller was also consistent and finished fourth with 980 points.  Trevor Gaffney, who made a late run, rounded out the top five finishers with 970 points.

In addition to everyone in the top five and the previous winners from the first weekend of action, eight other people also scored a free Bloomin’ Onion from my friends at Outback and I’ll be mailing those out to the lucky recipients.  In the media division, Joe Rinehart of WNZR (820 points) just edged out Amanda Rykoff (800 points) of the Houston Astros and former 10TV weatherman Josh Poland (800 points).  Meanwhile, Holly Zachariah and Rob Oller of the Columbus Dispatch ended up deadlocked in the battle for workplace bragging rights.  Defending champion R.J. Bergman finished in 47th place in a rebuilding year as he made an early exit just like his favorite team, Duke.  And finally, after thoroughly beating her husband and former contest winnter, Patrick Neville a year ago with Northeastern (NE) and Villanova (VILL) in the finals a year ago, Noelle Neville finished dead last.  If she would have only picked Villanova this year.  🙂

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s contest and thanks as always to Outback Steakhouse for being such a great sponsor.  They donated the $20 grand prize and 20 Bloomin’ Onion cards.  Make sure to visit them when possible and send them a tweet to say thanks!  Hope to see you all again next year when we all go in search of our One Shining Moment!

First Week in the Books

The first week of the NCAA Tournament is in the books and and there was definitely madness this March with upsets and buzzer beaters.  Of the 51 entries in this year’s contest, 23 people have already had their champion eliminated.  Michigan State was the biggest early exit as Sparty got an early spring break trip with a first round loss.

IMG_7636Speaking of Michigan State, only three entries (James Mummert, Michael MacEachern, and Noelle Neville) were still perfect through the first seven games before the Spartans’ lose ended that run.  James Mummert, Michael MacEachern, Mark Womack, Patrick Neville, and Cindy Warner finished the first day all tied for first place by getting 14 of the first 16 picks correct.  James snags the first Bloomin’ Onion certificate courtesy of our friends from Outback as I drew his name out to break the tie for the best day, while Noelle and Patrick will share one.

The second day saw Wade Foley pick 12 of the 16 winners correctly while Mark Womack and Cindy Warner each picked 11 right as that trio were each tied for first place with 25 of the first 32 picks correct.  Wade snagged the Bloomin’ Onion certificate for the best day, while Mark also gets one as I drew his name between he and Cindy since they both were in first for the second straight day.

The third day saw Andy Francis get seven of the eight games right as he moved into a first-place tie with Cindy Warner, who got six of the eight games right.  Andy claims the Bloomin’ Onion for the best day, while Cindy also gets one for her third straight day occupying first place.

Michael MacEachern took over the top spot in the contest on the fourth day as he correctly picked six of the eight winners to stand at 480 points through the first four days of games.  He picks up the Bloomin’ Onion certificate as he ended up going 12 for 16 in the second round.  Andy Francis is a close second with 470 points after also going 12 for 16, while Hannah Miller stands in third place with 460 points.  Brad Graley won the drawing for the day as he also went 12 for 16 along with Trevor Gaffney.

The Sweet Sixteen is now under way tonight and it will be interesting to see what happens next.  Stay tuned!

 

March Madness is Back!

It’s that time of year once again for my annual men’s college basketball March Madness bracket contest!  This marks the seventh straight year of the contest and once again the good people of Outback Steakhouse have agreed to be the title sponsor with the coveted Outback gift certificate and bragging rights up for grabs for the winner.  Last year, R.J. Bergman beat out 67 other people to win the top prize as he jumped from seventh place to the top spot when Duke claimed the title and cut down the nets.

March Madness is a great time of year for college hoops junkies and even the casual fan. One of the best ways to follow the action is to fill out a bracket and then root for your picks to advance. Go the safe route and pick all the higher seeds or be the one person to take an underdog Cinderella team all the way to the big dance. Either way, it’s lots of fun to participate and bragging rights as well as some good food in this case are up for grabs.

That’s where my contest comes in. For the seventh straight year, my contest is free to enter so there is no excuse not to get on board. The overall winner will receive a $20 gift certificate courtesy of my friends at Outback Steakhouse. And, they have been gracious enough to throw in free Bloomin’ Onion cards for the winner of each round, too. So, the steaks (er…stakes) are high and you need to sign up today!!!

To enter, just follow this link to the private group that I have set up for my friends on ESPN’s site. The group name is DP on the Go if you need to search for it and the password is Outback. (If you need the back story on my history with Outback, you can read it here.  They are a great company who loves interacting with their fans including an adventure for my 40th birthday that later included even meeting Debbie Gibson.  I would encourage you to follow them on Twitter at @Outback.)

I’ll look forward to having you join in on the fun. Your entry (only one per person) must be submitted before the first game tips off on Thursday at noon ET. The First Four games are not picked in this contest.  Besides entering your picks on time, the only other requirements are that you are following me on Twitter or a friend on Facebook and that I can tell who you are by your entry name.  Have fun!

The Donatos Journey – Chapter Two

It almost doesn’t seem possible that today marks my second anniversary of starting to work for Donatos.  It seems like just yesterday that I came to the home office on Taylor Station Road in Gahanna for my first day, but yet at the same time it also seems like I’ve been here for so much longer.

12036507_810702924330_3983335290734577534_n
The sunrise view from inside the Donatos home office (top) and the outside reflection

The first year was all about getting my feet wet, learning the culture and getting to know the great people who make up the Donatos family from the talented home office associates to the successful franchise partners we work with every day.

It is so much fun to look back on the second year and reflect on how much I have grown in my position as a field marketing manager over the past 365 days as well as reminiscing on some of the special moments that occurred during the year.

First of all, our raving fans deserve tremendous praise for the way they supported us during 2015.  Our 2014 fiscal year had been one of the best in company history and we topped it again in 2015.  Not only is this a testament to the great product that we make and the hard work of all the associates who work at every level to put us in a position for success, it still boils down to our guests choosing to spend their money on the products that we make and allowing us to be a part of so many special events and moments in their lives.  For that, we all say a huge THANK YOU!

I had the awesome opportunity during the summer of 2015 to represent Donatos as the person implementing our 13-week Summer of Your Life campaign.  This was a weekly contest where our guests could sign up by text or email to enter for an opportunity to win $1,000.  The really cool part of this contest was that each winner would then select the charity of their choice to which Donatos would also make a $1,000 donation.  It was so much fun drawing the number of the person from the thousands of entries and making the phone call which usually involved a lot of disbelief until I was finally able to convince them that they had really won.  There were too many cool stories to list here, but it was such an honor and a privilege to represent this great company and watch as we collectively made a difference.

11222563_10204622679638110_1361459968121692824_o
11 of the 13 winners in the Summer of Your Life contest

Another fun moment for me during this past year was representing Donatos before an Ohio State home football game at a Buckeyes Care event that saw 2,000 people enjoy our pizza and other activities before then taking in the OSU game against Western Michigan.  It was fun to see so many kids excited to go to their very first game…and I was one of them!  After nearly 44 years, I also was able to walk into Ohio Stadium and watch the Buckeyes post a victory.  We were able to be a part of providing both a great lunch and a great opportunity for so many that day…it was great!

12039321_809615847840_3006349400831307369_n
Brutus and I made sure all the attendees at the Buckeyes Care event had plenty of pizza

As the calendar flipped from 2015 to 2016, much of my time has been spent helping with the opening of our newest store in Nashville, Tenn.  Up until that point, I had not been part of a new store opening, so once again I was learning a bunch of new information and tactics.  I have to say that it has been a great experience for me personally to go through this process as I had the opportunity to work some people who up to this point I had not gotten to know.  It is amazing the amount of talent that we have in our company and the passion with which our associates do their jobs.  While there were many speed bumps along the way to opening day for that store, seeing the outpouring of love and support from our raving fans once again reminded me why I choose to do this job every day!

With as many trips to Nashville as I made during the last quarter of this year, it has almost become like a second home to me.  Such a fun city filled with great people.  And we are working hard to make all of them Donatos raving fans.  I definitely want to say a big thanks to Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN for their support of the new store there and especially all of the Donatos Nashville love they have spread via their social media accounts.  It is invaluable!  I also really appreciate the relationships that have developed with Kim Alexander and the great staff at the Courtyard by Marriott Vanderbilt/West End location…they have become like family and it has become my favorite place to stay while traveling for work.  Once again, it is all about the relationships.  And having really good pizza always helps with getting them started.  🙂

12670092_827737701500_5387342901342370140_n
From left:  Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts with Jim Grote, Tom Krouse, and Jane Grote Abell outside the newest Donatos in Nashville before the VIP event

All of this work has not taken away from my running.  In fact, I have used running to make new friends in the places that I visit who in turn I convert into Donatos fans.  I did not log as many miles running this year, but that was due to spending 12 weeks in a boot after breaking my foot in August.  It was still a great year from a running perspective as I had the opportunity to complete my first Boston Marathon and then followed that up by running my first 50K.  I did miss out on six races during the time that I was recovering from the injury, but I finished this work year strong with an 18-mile run in Nashville the morning of our VIP party prior to that store opening.  I have run with the Brentwood Breakfast Club and the Nashville Striders while in town as well as total strangers and a Vanderbilt ROTC group.  Running actually helps me get to know the areas around our stores better than driving around them in a car.

As I start my third year today, I already have 3 trips planned over the next three weeks which will have me visiting our stores in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky as well as the site for our next new store in Summerville, S.C.  It is going to be an extremely busy year with lots of new adventures and some new cities.  Buckle up and join me on the journey!

 

Horse with a Legend

HorseWithALegendOne of the great things about social media is that it can afford you the opportunity to meet people you may have otherwise never crossed paths with.  I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had many such encounters and I really enjoy when those online friendships cross over into real life interactions.

Today, Twitter helped me have the opportunity to play HORSE with a legend and brought four unlikely friends together.

About five years ago, I crossed paths briefly for the first time with Stephanie White when she was covering the NCAA women’s basketball regionals at Dayton for ESPN and I was volunteering with the site staff compiling game notes.  I started following her on Twitter and enjoyed watching her career unfold from afar.

A couple of years later, I was able to get to know Stephanie a little bit better when she agreed to be a guest speaker via Skype for a Sports Information class that I was teaching.  As I did a little research about her in order to introduce her to my class, I realized what an incredible athlete she is.  She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior in high school and then the Wade Trophy award winner as the National Player of the Year as a senior at Purdue as she led the Boilermakers to the national title.  She also went on to play in the WNBA.

These days, Stephanie just wrapped up her ‘rookie’ season as the head coach of the WNBA’s Indianapolis Fever where she led her team to the WNBA finals.  She also keeps busy in the offseason as a broadcaster, which is what brought her to the Columbus area today as she’ll call the action between Ohio State and UConn on Monday evening.

The other part of today’s Horse with a Legend competition trio is Tim Cary.  Tim is a graduate of Cedarville University, a big rival school of Mount Vernon Nazarene University where I attended college and then worked in the sports information department for 20 years.  I first met Tim in person a couple of years ago, but we’ve been friends via Twitter for a long time before that and he was also a guest Skype speaker in the class that I taught on several occasions.

Like me, Tim also uses social media to develop relationships he might not ever have made otherwise.  He is a worship leader at a church and a very talented pianist.  He is also a big Purdue fan which makes him a big fan of Stephanie White.  Through his work with Bleacher Report and then CBS Sports Online, he had also developed a connection with Stephanie over the years.  This led us to somewhat jokingly saying that the three of us should meet somewhere to play HORSE.  🙂

12247029_816089759070_2233760337608817349_nWell, after almost two years of trying to figure out how to pull this off, we did it today.  With Stephanie coming to the Columbus area for work, Tim found a gym for us to play in thanks to Ray Slagle at Worthington Christian High School who coached a state championship team in 1999 as well as five NAIA Division II national tournament qualifiers at Cedarville.

I’ll be honest…I hadn’t shot a basketball in about six months and haven’t been very active for the past three months due to breaking my foot.  But none of that mattered as it was just about meeting up with people that I respect.  I tried my best, but I’m still not much of a shot and Stephanie quickly knocked me out in both games that we played with a Larry Bird-esque shot over the backboard in the first game and then just a steady barrage of mid-range jumpers in game two.  (Yep, I was the sacrificial lamb who shot after her to start each game.)  Tim did nail some great shots in the second game and nearly pulled off the upset, but Stephanie’s consistent sweet shooting stroke did him in both times too and she picked up the expected title.

Definitely the coolest part of the entire experience was just listening to Stephanie answer questions about life in the WNBA, coaching, broadcasting, and anything else that the three of us tossed her way.  She is a class act and treated all of us as though we were friends that she hangs out with on a frequent basis.  And, I found out that she really likes the chicken spinach mozzarella pizza from Donatos, while Tim was more than happy with the pepperoni pizza I also brought.

Thanks, Stephanie, Tim, and Ray, for making Horse with a Legend possible and so much fun.  And thanks again, Twitter, for allowing me the opportunity to make new friends.