Running is a Drug – Cotton Row Run 2014

Me post-race back at the house sporting my shirt honoring my Grandfather Staff Sargent Arthur Lee Spencer Sr.

Me post-race back at the house sporting my shirt honoring my Grandfather Staff Sargent Arthur Lee Spencer Sr.

I found myself waking up at 4:30 on Monday morning, which was about 30 minutes earlier than I had originally planned on, with a nervous first date type of jitters in my stomach.  In two and a half hours I would be running my first Cotton Row Run 10k through the neighborhoods of downtown Huntsville, and up a “short” little hill I had heard a lot of nasty things about.  I decided that this would be my last race for a few months so that I could take time to focus more on core and strength building and I wanted to really make it count as it would be my first recorded 10k timing.  I had continued on with running my normal 20-25 miles per week and although I was tempted to join one of the Cotton Row Saturday morning run through groups, but I decided that I would allow myself to be a virgin to the hill the day of the race.

I drank my coffee and stepped outside on the back porch to see what kind of moods the heat and humidity were in and decided that I would not let them take up any space in my mind, after all, there wasn’t anything I could do to about it.  I put on my shortest of shorts and my new  running shirt which I had asked my mom to screen print my Grandfathers name, rank, and outfit in which he fought with during WWII as I thought this was be the perfect way to honor his memory.  PaPaw was a stern and caring man who always offered up a constant stream of wisdom filled one-liners like “If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a helping hand, look at your wrist,” so I knew that he would appreciate the thought of a 10k being run in his honor.  He might have had something to say if I was only running the 5k; he was a Spencer after all.  Let me put it to you this way, the man was shot twice in his right leg and took 11 pieces of shrapnel in his left in Tunisia, went to the medic tent where he spent three weeks and then promptly rejoined his unit.  The man was the definition of tough.

After I ran in and out of our hallway bathroom three times, each ensuring myself that I had emptied my bladder and that the coffee I had at 4:40 was out of my system, I finally headed downtown to the race.  It was an impressive site to see all of the runners walking up to the start line.  A see of red, white, and blue brought along a feeling of solidarity that people were still taking the true meaning of Memorial Day seriously.  I really appreciated that.  This wasn’t just another run like all of the others where I was going for some personal record, it had a stronger meaning for me personally and with the pictures of lost loved ones carefully pinned to the backs of others, I realized that I was not alone.

I was lucky enough to run into some old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while such as Ken who to me is best known for hosting amazing taco night feasts at his house.  He had been training his butt off for Cotton Row and  lost a lot of weight since I last talked with him while I shoved bean burritos in my face.  I was also lucky enough to catch up with one of the local Contracting Officers whom I took classes with while receiving my undergrad at UAH.  This guy was a KO for a reason and pretty much ended up teaching one of the classes we were both enrolled in.  He was a living and breathing version of the FAR.  You want to talk about stories? He once told the class about a meeting in a building overseas, I believe in either Iraq or Afghanistan, where a guy chooses the elevator over the stairs and ends up getting assassinated because of this poor health choice.  Yes, someone was supposedly waiting in the elevator to pull off some James Bond type maneuvers. Contingency Contracting is a hell of a thing, and its the main reason I always remember to take the stairs these days.

Remember those sole purpose for beard lubrication tears I talked about in the last post? Well boy did they try to show up again when a 90 year-old veteran who survived the June 6, 1943 invasion of Omaha Beach told the crowd that “If there ever was a Hell on earth, that was it,” I think all of us stopped to think about how lucky we were to be standing in our respective spots.  I felt that if anyone had any doubt that they couldn’t finish this race, or that they were going to finish in the time they wanted, it was quickly dissipated by the realization that what they were about to face was nothing close to what the man standing on the podium in front of them had been through.  Taps was played and shots were fired in remembrance and we lined up in preparation.

I don’t remember much about the start other than I was trying to wiggle my way through the mass of people I was in the middle of.  I should have started a little bit farther up towards the start line and maybe I would have cut about 30 to 40 seconds off of my time.  I continued on through the streets of Huntsville and saw some parts of town that I had never had the chance of experiencing before. I was thankful that I had decided to not join in on the training runs now as the run was more exciting because I didn’t know what beautiful home would be around the next curve.  I have to add in here that the spectators composed of the residents of Huntsville were absolutely amazing.  People waved and cheered, and I even got a few “Hey man! Nice Beard!” shout-outs as well.  This was the first race where I had seen spectators take it upon themselves to set up drink tables because they just knew that I poured the majority of my last cup of water I had .5 miles back on my head when I really should have poured it down my throat.  This made me thankful to be a part of the running community in Huntsville.  And to that beautiful soul standing on the corner of Franklin and Randolph, I could have kissed you for handing me that cup of water right when I needed it because you could see the frustration in my eyes at the realization that my right shoe had decided to come untied but you said what I needed to hear, “Don’t worry about it honey, you’re almost there!”

Here I am trying out some new hill walking techniques.

Here I am trying out some new hill walking techniques. Photo Credit: Greg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville

At about mile mark 2.5 I realized that I was about to face what I had only heard in whispers, the dreaded hill.  It was impressive to say the least and while I had been keeping a steady pace, and from what I could tell hitting negative splits, I realized that this was about to change.  I had to stop running and slow down to a climb where I found it was best to stride as long as possible and put my knees into my face in order to make it up.  The thought of amazement at the fact that anyone would want to live in a house located on a hill like that as the money they spend on car brakes each year must be astronomical seemed to keep my mind off of it.  I have to say thank you to the home owner who was blasting the theme to Rocky as it provided me with a laugh and an energy boost to get my butt up the hill.  Yes I did indeed raise my hands above my head in celebration once I had slayed the beast, but I was saddened that no one else was joining with me.  It could have had something to do with the fact that a few people were busy puking.

I finished out the race at 51:14, a time that at first I wasn’t proud of but after taking into consideration the heat and humidity, I was happy with it.  I finally have my benchmark time and I’ll be ready for that hill next year.  It will never see me coming.  I am thankful to be a part of an amazing running community that puts on amazing races run by even more amazing volunteers.  We’ve got a good thing going on Huntsville. And hill, I’ve got your number.


Running is a Drug – “It’s Not a Diet, it’s a Lifestyle Change.”


Running is a drug that I am hopelessly addicted to. In fact, running is something that has completely changed my life. If you had told me five years ago that I would be running at all, let alone anywhere near 13.1 miles at an 8:50 per mile pace, I would have boisterously laughed in your face.  After I laughed in your face, I more than likely would have finished off that days pack of Marlboro lights and drowned my pathetic excuse for sorrows in a few craft beers, or on a rough night a good number of Pabst Blue Ribbons.  Don’t call it hipster beer, PBR is delicious and cheap. (Insert your mom joke here).  Then I would have bitterly rolled over the fact that someone as stupid as you could even think of something like that. I wasn’t the happiest person deep down inside, years of bad decisions and an inability to recognize who I really was had left me with a nihilistic and bitter view of the world.  It wasn’t a great place to be.  I mean I’m still an ass sometimes, but yes, running did change me for the better.

I decided that I was going to start running right after Stacy and I decided that we both wanted kids.  I was sitting in the garage on a Saturday morning with a cup of Folger’s Columbian in one hand and a Marlboro light in the other; this was how I started every morning, reflecting on all the drinks I drank last night and what stupid things I may have said that could possibly require some damage control.  While listening to the mocking birds  tease the neighborhood cats with the fact that they would never be caught and all their efforts to change that were futile,  a montage started playing in my head.  It featured a very attractive actor, tall, bearded, fat (in the sexy way though) very much similar to myself (okay it was me), man who was playing with a toddler and struggling to catch up as the child ran through a field.  The next scene featured me in my mid 40’s, struggling to get down the bleachers of a ball field to congratulate my kid on the teams first big win.  Yes, John Cougar Mellonhead was playing in the background.  And then at last at a wedding I was bound to a wheelchair due to poor health brought on by poor choices, too fat to stand on my own two feet and interact with others on an eye to eye level.  I didn’t like any of this.  It bothered me deeply that my life could be like this if I didn’t do something to change it. Writing this down it seems like such a silly daydream, something straight out of Tuesday afternoon daytime program.  I had seen those around me who had let food and lethargy take over their lives to a very serious point.  It is a very ugly thing.  The funny thing is that they always seem to be the most opinionated on the activities of others, although it’s only an failed attempt to cover up their unhappiness within their own life’s.  I did not want to be one of these people.

I started running because I thought it would be a great activity to pick up to help me quit smoking, and it also helped that my good friend David would always talk about how running allowed him to eat whatever he wanted and drop weight.  Now the eat all you want view is nowhere near the right reason to start running, but it got me into it.  I started out walking and jogging the Greenway by my house; I was barely able to jog for a straight minute.  I look back at this now and laugh due to what training and dedication allow me to do today.  After a while David talked me into training for my first 5K which was a silly distance to me at first. 3.1 mile? Why in the hell would anyone want to run something like that? I mean we have cars y’all.  I started using a Couch to 5k app on my phone which instructed me on how to properly train and not burn myself out.  It was hard at first but slowly progress came along.

Now making running a main part of your life is not an easy thing to do, there are many worries that come along with it.  For one I would always worry about what the other people would think of me as I passed them. Were they making fun of me in their head? “Look at this lard trying to get fit;” I know this may seem silly but I guarantee you that 99% of people who start running feel this way. The other 1% are cocky jerks who work in finance.  Oh the snot proudly resting on my mustache how it worried me so, although perhaps they were overshadowed man boobs I had acquired due to all that Mountain Dew and double Whoppers.   I had gotten to a point in life where I really realized how truly unhappy I was with the way that I looked and how I felt.  I had always been the fat kid, I had formed my personality around being the fat kid.  The person that I am today has been formed through the experiences of an obese kid who at one point in life turned off his emotions to the world and accepted that due to him being fat, he deserved to be bullied.  “Fat ass” is something that I was called a lot. On top of a plethora of other things, but that would always hurt the most.  You can toughen your skin, harden your heart, and become stoic to the rest of the world but no matter what, those two words will always hurt.  Running was my tool to take that away from the bastards and bitches who liked to use it against me.  Running is a tool that saved me and helped me to find a new kind of happiness.  Running taught me to feel good about myself and to feel pride in every step I took.

The training for my first 5k would continue and I would get up to a point where I could run continuously for two miles at a respectable 10 minute 30 second pace.  And then came the day of my first 5k, you want to talk about nervous? I kept it hidden from David that I almost threw up twice BEFORE the race due to nerves.  I think the fact that I had only run two miles was what scared me the most, and the idea of sudden death via heat stroke or some other random incident that kills fat runners, you know the kind you hear in the news all the time, was the only thing that was on my mind.  Well we started that race and David kept me motivated, continuously coxing me the whole time, and I only walked only once to take a breather for about 30 seconds due to side stitches setting in.  I finished that race with a time of 36:16 and damn was I proud.  I felt a feeling of success that could not compare to any other achievement up to that date.  I was hooked on a new drug.  My life drastically changed after this, and I had a wonderful support system in my wife Stacy who would always work with my new schedule and be my personal cheerleader for a big lifestyle change.

I continued to train, run regularly, but after a while I hit a lull. I started to lose faith in myself and would fall for easy excuses and self pity such as it being too hot or that I was never going to lose the weight I wanted to.  This is not typical of me as I am extremely hard headed and driven, but every now and then I let the negative thoughts in my head get the best of me.  I kept trying to go back to what a family friend told me at the beach one year “It’s not a diet, its a lifestyle change,”  but my excuse was that lifestyle changes are tough I ended taking a break from running for about two months.  A positive change would later take place thanks to a super enthusiastic little running coach..  I was near the end of my college journey at UAH in Huntsville, Alabama and that meant that I had some credit hours that I needed to fill up with classes that didn’t involve finance or the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations – the government contracting bible) and all its gloriousness.

My adviser Cheryl did what she did best and explained to me that the easiest way to burn through these credits was to take a Health and Physical Education course which would allow me all sorts of different opportunities from losing golf balls on the back nine to toning my inner ninja via three different martial arts course.  I took what I thought would be the easy route and enrolled in a class called Run/Jog/Walk where I would be introduced to running coach and spitfire Jane.  Jane was a short petite lady with curly blonde hair who always sported a pair of running sunglasses that came from the same product line favored by bad guys in 90’s action movies.  Her excitement level would always be turned to an 11 when it came to the beginning of class every day, she was elated to have the chance to guide people into the world of running.  She would be the first person to actually give me a well needed education in running, what the proper rules for road safety were, what you needed to do in order to avoid any catastrophic injury in the future, and most importantly how to train correctly.  Jane would set our daily course and come and run up along side of you at some point to check in on you and offer encouragement.  Who knew that with a little education and a whole lot of motivation I would be running distances of 4+ miles and have dropped 15 pounds in only three months.  She was the pusher and I was the addict who was hopelessly and happily hooked back on running.  One of the things I remember most from Jane’s class is her lectures on the topic of not being in the mood to run and how you “Just need to get out and say I’m going to just run one mile, and the rest will continue after that.”  I use this every time I am having a crappy day and the sight of my running shoes and the 5 minutes it takes me to get dressed and geared up disgusts me.  I owe that little lady a lot because she helped me to set a goal of achieving a 10k (6.2 miles) by May of 2014.  I learned I was much stronger than this and have now dropped over 40 pounds, completed two half-marathons, and have my first full on the books for December.  All it took was a little push from someone.

This has been a rather long post about something that is only slightly related to the baby, but at the same time it will have a huge impact on our babies life.  I want to show our child how important a healthy lifestyle is and I really hope that one day she will want to go on runs with her dad.  I also hope that maybe anyone reading this who wants to make a change in their life understands that it is totally possible.  You are the only person stopping you from doing it.

More posts to come, I promise the next one won’t take so long, the next one will be about our discovering the sex of the baby! Thanks for reading!