Fort Bliss Half Marathon Race Recap

I love the idea of starting off the new year with a big race. I’m less a fan, however, of training for a big race during the holidays. When my alarm went off early on Saturday morning, I knew that I was heading out to a race I was under trained for. I also knew that my fueling situation was kinda whack. -> We were all out of gu and I opted to be lazy instead of buying more. Teehee. (I have a theory that my laziness is cute and not obnoxious if I follow it up by saying ‘teehee.’) I grabbed the only thing in the pantry that made sense at 6:20am, graham crackers. My thought was that I could break them up and put them in my mouth like a squirrel. (Yes, I realize now that this sounds insane!) Even with my lackluster training and my, um, unique race fuel, I still had it in my head that I could run this race fast. The course is flat, the weather was on my side, I should totally go for it right?

ready set go

When the gun went off, I told my legs to go fast.

  • Mile 1: 9:23
  • Mile 2: 9:46
  • Mile 3: 9:45
  • Mile 4: 9:59

After a few too-fast miles, I settled into a somewhat reasonable pace. I didn’t really watch my watch. It spent most of the race under my sleeves. Instead, I tried to run by feel (not always my strong suit.) I wanted to go fast but not too fast, knowing that the race would be a long one. My two long runs in preparation (See, I told you I was under trained!) were an 8 miler and 10 miler. Both of those were run with friend from Wear Blue and tons of fun. Being out there on my own, however, was decidedly less fun. The race course was pretty sparse, there were no spectators, and the volunteers spent their energy trying to stay warm instead of cheering. It was just me and my thoughts and the desert. Those thoughts mostly centered around the fact that I wanted to blow a snot rocket but didn’t know how. Yes, I’m a great running partner.

  • Mile 5: 10:02
  • Mile 6: 10:05
  • Mile 7: 10:04

I spent the majority of the race leapfrogging with other runners. I’d get ahead of them, but then I would walk in order to eat some graham crackers, take off my jacket, or take care of the previously mentioned boogers. My walking mean that all those people I spent miles gaining on and passing, passed me right back. Hate that! There were two women in particular that I had my eye on, but around the halfway point they really took off. I was left mostly surrounded by dudes. I know that I’m only competing against myself, but I still like passing women potentially in my age group.

fort bliss half

  • Mile 8: 10:25
  • Mile 9: 10:10
  • Mile 10: 9:51

The course was double lollipop looking thing. I liked where we ran. (In fact, I mentally “wrote an entire post about why I love running on post during the second half of the race.) The structure meant that even though I had Wear Blue friends running the race, I didn’t get to see them like you would on an out and back.

fort bliss half course

The one exception was during mile 9 where the too loops connect and briefly zig-zagged. I spotted a Wear Blue member, Tony, less than a mile ahead of me. We both waved. I felt a burst of energy to plow on and try to catch him. When I made it to where he had been, I could see another friend behind me! See, that’s what I like in my races – friendly faces all around! I had been dragging, but I finally felt motivated again. Time to dig in.

  • Mile 11: 10:07
  • Mile 12: 9:45
  • Mile 13: 8:29

During mile 11, I caught up to Tony. He was doing awesome on his first half, but was fighting some gnarly calf cramps. We smiled at each other and ran side by side for a minute. He mustered up the breath to ask me to tell his wife that he was on his way. Awww! How sweet is that? (They’ve been married for a long time, have three kids, and are utterly adorable. Their marriage is worth aspiring to!) I let him know that catching him had been great motivation for me before I surged on.

My focus was to take the rest of that mile easy and push hard for the final two. The ladies I had been leapfrogging with for the entire race were finally within my grasp. This was also the point where I was feeling so sore and so tired. I wanted rest! I shifted my focus to passing people. I would lock my eyes on the person I wanted to pass, tell myself that they were the ones who were tired, and try to increase my turnover. It got the job done – I passed 4 women an a handful of dudes! There was one more lady I wanted to pass at the end, but my fastest wasn’t fast enough to catch her. Still, I finished strong!

  • 13.02 mile finish time: 2:09:05
  • Average pace: 9:54 per mile

I saw lots of familiar faces as I ran the last half mile. Many of my Wear Blue friends ran the 5k, which ended a half hour before, and hung around to cheer. I even saw Tony’s wife and shouted out his message to her. :) Julie and I went to Taco Cabana afterwards, and I talked her ear off for two hours. (That’s really my favorite way to end a race.) The rest of the day was spent laying on the couch because I’m an old lady. (And that’s my other favorite way to end a race.)

finish line

So what’s next? I’m not entirely sure. This was my 13th half, so I’d love to run 2 more this year and make it an even 15 for 2015. I’m also craving more middle distances, like 8k’s and 10k’s or other random k’s. Bataan (walking, not running!) is still a possibility. As of right now, I have no upcoming races picked out. I guess I need to get on that!

By The Books

One of my big focuses for 2014 was reading as many good books as possible. Here’s how my reading shook out for 2014:

58 books read total

  • 3 were audiobooks
  • 3 were graphic novels
  • 22 were nonfiction
    • 3 of those were biographies
  • 36 were fiction
    • 17 of those were juvenile or young adult fiction
  • 27 of the books were written by women, 31 by men.
  • 14 of the books were more than a decade old, and the oldest book was Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”
  • I read 16,216 pages. The longest book was “Night Film” by Marish Pessl at 608 pages.

My goal was 60, and in the end, I read 58. As I’ve said before, I’m not bummed that I missed my goal. I wanted to read good books, and that mission was accomplished. Interestingly, I read 59 in 2013. The total number of pages I read both years is also about the same. I guess with my reading pace, that’s about all I have time for each year. (You can see my 2013 reading recap here to compare.)

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my time reading stinky books. (I read 10 terrible books in 2013.) While I sometimes got bogged down and needed to be reminded that it was okay to ditch a book, I was a lot better about it this year. I only read 3 books this year that I didn’t really like. That means that I rated 95% of the books I read as a 3, 4 or 5 out of 5, as in they were good, very good, or excellent.

I gave 10 books this year a rating of 5 out of 5.

best books 2014

These are the cream of the crop! There were quite a few other books that I liked, but these are all books that stayed with me and touched me deeply. I like that they are all different. There’s fiction, nonfiction, a graphic novel, and a touch of sci-fi. One book is told from the point-of-view of a dog, another eliminates the use of certain letters throughout. You’ve got unreliable narrators, short stories, converging stories, and epic tales. These ten books pretty much have everything a girl could ever want in a book! I would happily re-read any of these any day of the week, and if you are wanting a really good read, add these to your list. I wanted to pick one favorite to hold up as the shining star of the year, but it’s too hard. I can’t narrow it down any more than this.

For 2015, my reading goal is a different. I’m taking a page from Christine over at Bookishly Boisterous and aiming for a certain number of pages instead of a certain number of books. The goal is 15,000. That’s a little bit less than this year, but right on track for what I’m capable of achieving. The idea is to just make sure that I continue to read (preferably good books!) all year long. I’m keeping it simple! You can follow along with me on Good Reads or on Instagram (#AmyReads).

What are some of the best books you read in 2014?

ABQ

I had big plans to kick off the year on a high note. (Ha! I crack myself up.) Stephen and I were going to go on a hot air balloon trip in Albuquerque. (See, that ‘high note’ joke is making sense now.) Albuquerque is a quick 4 hour drive north of where we live in El Paso, far enough to make it an adventure but not so far that it would be more than a day trip.

albuquerque

After some particularly festive festivities to ring in the New Year, Stephen spent the first part of the drive sleeping. Eventually the scenery was too beautiful, so I woke him up. We oohed and ahhed over the snowcapped mountains and rolling hills. The drive was easy, and we rolled up to our destination with just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before liftoff….and that’s when I discovered that the balloon company left a message on my phone telling me the ride had been cancelled due to high winds. We were deflated (Ha!), but with a free afternoon in a new city, we made the best of it.

Plan B: Walk around Old Town Albuquerque.

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Albuquerque was established in 1706, which is pretty old compared to a lot of the southwest. It was also the location of some exciting Civil War action. I wish we would have had more time to take in the historical and cultural aspects, but with limited time, we opted to enjoy the beauty of the little shops and buy a few things for ourselves.

After two hours of dipping in and out of little stores and making some purchases (mostly food!), it was time for a quick dinner and then back on the road.

I hopped back in the driver’s seat, ready for 4 more hours on the road only to be immediately greeted by snow. At first, it was pretty. Who doesn’t love a little bit of that flakey white stuff drifting down in the moonlight? As I drove on, however, the snow was thicker and the road was less traveled. I white-knuckled it for 45 minutes before letting Stephen take over. He’s much calmer under pressure (goes with the job, I guess) and more experienced in snow driving.

He took it very slowly and we stayed straight and narrow while many of the cars around us were not so fortunate. We didn’t see anyone get majorly hurt, but quite a few of vehicles were playing bumper cars, hit the side rails, and some even ended up in ditches. I held my breath until we made it outside the storm. Our return trip ended up being 90 minutes longer, but I was just thankful that we were safe.

Our balloon ride has been rescheduled for February. I’m hoping the wind and snow are less! Still, I didn’t mind our introductory trip to Albuquerque, and I’m excited to go back!

Out with the Old (A Year in Review)

Is January 3rd too late for a 2014 recap? The other night, Stephen and I were talking about our 3 favorite things from 2014 when I realized that I had way more than 3. And I wanted to share!

Reasons that 2014 was awesome:

1. Stephen came home from deployment safe and sound.

Picture of the year as far as I'm concerned!

Picture of the year as far as I’m concerned!

Stephen was gone for 3/4ths of the year, but it wasn’t all bad. He wanted to deploy, he gained valuable experience, and he made strong friendships in the process. I made new friendships, I learned to rely on myself, and I feel a little braver after all that. We were blessed in that his experience was (mostly) uneventful. This story could easily be very different. {As always, my heart is with those who are still in the thick of it.}

2. I turned 30 and ran in the year with a really fun half marathon.

My first few months as a 30-year-old have been kick ass. I know it won’t be sunshine and smiles for the entire decade, but I feel more confident and satisfied with myself than I ever have before. I finally see what all the fuss is about turning 30 – it’s a great age!

3. I spent a week in Jamaica!

beach

‘Nuff said.

4. I got a new job that I love!

In 2013, I was highly dissatisfied on the career-front. I started out this year working for UTEP, which I loved. It was such a cool opportunity, and I know making the leap to that job was right. It reignited my passion for teaching, I applied for a job on a whim, and got hired. Bonus: I love my administration, my students, and my coworkers. Teaching can be really frustrating, but it is also very rewarding. I’m reveling in the fact that I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be.

5. I cemented old friendships and made new ones.

Even though we are apart, I got in some awesome friend time with my BFF Mary Beth. I spent a week with her in Waxahachie. Later in the year, she flew out for a weekend with me in El Paso. I’m so fortunate not only to have a friend who is as awesome as she is, but that she is willing to carve out time to continue our friendship. I think of her more like a sister and I consider her daughters to be my nieces. Sometimes I dream about us living in the same neighborhood and how much fun that will be. Although it’s highly unlikely, I know I’m lucky that she (and her entire family) are in my life.

On the new friend front, Julie became my rock this year. Even though her boyfriend wasn’t deployed, I considered her my battle buddy. Our coffee dates, yoga classes, and runs together provided me with a level of sanity I know I wouldn’t have had otherwise. There is a move in her near future, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that the Army will bring us back together when I inevitably PCS down the line. I’m also glad that she and I joined Wear Blue: Run to Remember. I’ve gained a whole slew of new friends that way and they’ve made my life so much richer!

Representing Wear Blue with Julie at the Flying Horse Half Marathon.

Representing Wear Blue with Julie at the Flying Horse Half Marathon.

6. I was healthy the entire year.

One of the biggest things I learned from Ben (my brother-in-law who passed away after a lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis) is that I should never take my health for granted. If I only had one wish, it would be to be healthy. This year, that was the case.

7. I ran two full marathons.

The El Paso Marathon in February and the Bataan Death March in March. Both were hard, but they were also huge accomplishments. I PRed in the 10k and 8k. Even though I didn’t earn personal bests in any other distances, I still had a fun year full of running.

2014 was seriously good to me, even with that whole “husband being gone for 9 months” thing. I have no major goals or expectations for 2015. Sure, I hope to be healthy, to continue to run, to build on my friendships, and to read a ton, but I’m also okay with letting life just happen. I’m not reinventing myself; I’m just enjoying myself. 2015 – bring it!

Amy Reads: December

First, happy New Years Eve! I hope that 2014 treated you well. And if it didn’t, at least it’s over. Now to the books!

Another year of reading is in the books (da dum ting!). I read 58 total, missing my goal of 60 by just 2. While I would have loved to have met my goal, the most important thing is that I read good books. What would be the point otherwise? But I will reflect more on the year as a whole later. For now, I’m just focusing on December. I wanted to end the year with some really good books, and it seems that I was successful! Here they are:

1. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (Fiction)

flowers

Short version: A man with a low IQ who has agreed to be part of a science experiment in which his IQ soars, he experiences life in a new way (for better or worse), and the unforeseen consequences of the experiment.

Long version: 5 out of 5 stars. Most people have probably read this story in school, myself included. However, I’m fairly certain that the version I read was abridged as much of what I read this time around seemed brand new. Or my memory sucks. Either way, the book, originally published in 1959, stands up to the test of time. I liked the journal-style of the book. The word choice, syntax, depth, even spelling changed throughout the book along with Charlie’s IQ. It’s heartbreaking to see his understanding of the world sour when he realizes with the help of his new intelligence that his friends aren’t his friends and his childhood was terribly dysfunctional. It’s equally painful as he realizes how the experiment will end before it happens. And I love a sorrowful story. This one is worth the re-read!

2. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Fiction)

time

Short version: A love story in which one half of the couple unpredictably and uncontrollably time travels and thus experiences life out of order.

Long version: 4 out of 5 stars. My mom suggested that I watch the movie, but since I couldn’t get my hands on it, I read the book instead. (It seemed like a good alternative!) While it was a tad long, I liked the story-telling device of having two characters experience time differently. It was sort of like a literary approach to  all the science-y stuff that I’ve been loving lately. I’m usually not one for adult love stories (I prefer my love a la young adult fiction), but this one didn’t rub me the wrong way. Even with the supernatural element, it felt real and not too schmaltzy. Their love was complicated by the supernatural (damn, uncontrollable time travel) and the practical (infertility). I liked Niffenegger’s style and I’d be up for reading more of her stuff down the line.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Fiction)

art  of

Short version: A dog narrates this novel about a down-on-his-luck race car driver as his family falls apart.

Long version: 5 out of 5 stars! This was easily one of my favorite books this year. Sure, it was a tad sentimental and cheesy, but I guess that’s what I like. I loved the dog as the narrator, the race car driving metaphor for life, the struggles, and the triumphs. The ending made me cry (no surprise there), but so did another passage in the middle that I bookmarked: “…but which gave me something I could hold on to. Some belief that the center of our family could not be fractured by a chance occurrence, an accidental washing, an unexpected illness. Deep in the kernel of our family existed a bond; Denny, Zoe, Eve, me, and even my stuffed dog. However things might change around us, we would always be together.” Oh man, cue the tears. This passage is so bittersweet and it breaks my heart that while on one level it’s true, on another it’s not. Family members won’t always be together. I want to hug Garth Stein. This book nailed it.

4. The Saturday Boy by David Fleming (Juvenile Fiction)

saturday boy

Short version: Eleven-year-old Derek Lamb deals with eleven-year-old concerns  (staying out of trouble, the confusing behavior of frienemies, keeping up with his favorite comics), meanwhile his father is away in Afghanistan.

Long version: 3.5 stars. The fabulous Janelle sent me this book, and suggested that I add it to my classroom library. I think it will be a perfect addition and my students will enjoy it. As for me, I started out not really feeling it. Perhaps because the protagonist is so young and so boyish. Sometimes I felt frustrated that he was so focused on what I saw as little things and not on the big things in life. (He thinks so little of his father’s deployment nor is it really explained why they’ve spent so much time apart.) In the end, I think the writer was being true to the voice of a little boy and that young readers would respond to that. By the end of the book, I felt that the characters were endearing and that this quick read was lovely.

5. Abigail Adams: A Revolutionary American Woman by Charles W. Akers and Mark C. Carnes (Biography)

abigail

Short version: The unique life of the wife of the second president and mother of the sixth.

Long version: 3.5 stars. After whipping through The Saturday Boy, I wanted to immediately jump into another book, but the library was closed. I took to my personal bookshelf, and this was the only thing I hadn’t read. I think it must be a holdover from college. Although it’s quite dry, I managed to fall in love with Abigail Adams! She was interested in education, reading, politics, and women’s rights. (Though it might not seem like it since she staunchly believed that they belonged in the home. In all fairness, she was a product of her times, but she was also progressive in her view that women were just as important as men.) She unrelentingly supported her husband and his sense of duty despite the fact that it often kept them apart. (They went as long as 4+ years at a time apart without seeing each other!) Still, they were deeply in love and flirted via letters. I found myself surprisingly relating to her and admiring her independence and bravery. I dub Mrs. Adams the original lady badass!

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Total # of books read this year: 58

Total # of pages read this year: 16,216

Down By The Beach

One of the things that kept me positive while Stephen was deployed was imagining the two of us lying on the beach with fruity drinks in our hands. We spent the better part of the spring debating where we should go until finally landing on Montego Bay, Jamaica. Neither one of us had ever been there before or really even considered it, but my travel agent friend wowed us with her personal pictures of the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall. As if that wasn’t enough, the resort is all inclusive, adults only, and a short flight from the Dallas airport. The trip was booked well before Stephen even returned home.

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I’m always a tad nervous about vacations until I arrive at my destination. I worry that the pictures lied or the location will stink or there will be some unforeseen reason that we should have made an entirely different choice. (Pre-emptive buyers remorse?) When we pulled up to the Iberostar, we were greeted with hot towels and mimosas while bellhops whisked our luggage away. I stood in the lobby in awe. The pictures didn’t lie. We had made the right choice.

The Room

iberostar grand

We received a complimentary upgrade to an ocean view suite (sweet!) upon our arrival. Even if we couldn’t have seen the ocean from our room, I’m sure we would have loved it. The bathroom had his and hers sinks, a jetted tub, and a rainfall shower. The closet space was gigantic, which was perfect since I’m a professional overpacker. The main space of the room had a huge bed (too big for my taste – I prefer a small bed for cuddling), a lounge chair, and a table. Just beyond that was a big ol’ balcony with a swing and another lounge chair. You could have comfortably fit 5 people on the balcony and uncomfortably fit 30. It was massive! All that for just us two.

The view from our balcony.

The view from our balcony.

The Food and Drinks

The best part about an all inclusive is the peace of mind. Sure, you’re probably paying more than if you bought everything individually, but I like not having to even think about money. Instead, we could order room service, eat on the beach, drink ourselves silly, or dine at one of the fancy schmancy restaurants and order ever single item on the menu without forking over a cent. (Well, if you don’t count all the money we forked over up front. But you get the idea.) That’s exactly what we did! Most mornings we ate at a buffet and took advantage of the made-to-order omelette, the plethora of juice options, and cheeses from around the world. But trust me, whatever you could imagine eating for breakfast (even seafood!), it was there.

For dinner, we tried out each of the restaurants on the property. Our butler, Kevoy, booked all our reservations when we arrived. I’m not sure if I would have even considered eating at some of the restaurants if he hadn’t chosen them for us, but I’m so glad he did! We had surf and turf, Italian, Jamaican, gourmet, and Japanese. The Italian and Japanese (surprisingly!) were my two favorites, but every single thing we ate was better than the last. They don’t shortchange you on the food. Every meal was three courses (except for the Japanese, which was more like 5!), made by talented chefs, and presented with flair. I’d be willing to go back for the food alone.

Jason, our chef at the Japanese steakhouse, provided great food and great entertainment!

Jason, our chef at the Japanese steakhouse, provided great food and great entertainment!

Some people say that the drinks at all inclusives are watered down. I’m such a lightweight that I wouldn’t notice if that were the case, but my drinks-like-a-soldier husband confirms that you aren’t getting watery drinks at the Iberostar. Waitresses would trek out of the beach to bring us drinks where we lounged, we were offered whatever we wanted at the restaurants, there was a swim-up bar, we frequented the lobby bar, the drinks flowed during the evening shows, and we even spent a few nights hanging out at the cigar lounge bar. Hey, we wanted to get our money’s worth.

The Excursions and Entertainment

We are normally pretty adventurous when it comes to vacations, trying to do and see everything. We took a different approach for this vacation and spent most of our time relaxing at the resort. We did get out a little bit, though. First up was a ghost tour of the Rose Hall Great House, a supposedly haunted former plantation. The grounds were beautiful and more than a little spooky. Half of a day was spent zip lining. Stephen loved it. No surprise there considering he is an adrenaline junkie. I was a little more apprehensive, but I eventually got into it, even flipping upside down on the final line. We had hoped to visit the Luminous Lagoon, one of four places in the world where the water naturally glows, but the weather conditions weren’t right for it. I guess this means we’ll just have to go back. ;)

Shortly before taking on the longest line of the day - it was a quarter mile long!

Shortly before taking on the longest line of the day – it was a quarter mile long!

As for entertainment on the resort, we kept ourselves pretty busy by taking it easy. I read and napped. Stephen worked out at the gym every day (!). The majority of our time was spent on the beach or chilling on our balcony. We ended up splurging for a couples hot stone massage. Those women are miracle workers and it was worth every penny! One afternoon was spent in the wellness pool aka a giant indoor hot tub. Each night the resort put on a show with live music and spectacular dancing, and we became obsessed with attending. They did a Broadway review (my favorite!), interpretive dance of the history of Jamaica, big band swing dancing, and a huge boogie nights disco show.

Final Thoughts

I now know that you can skip the currency exchange – everyone takes American money. It rained nearly every day that we were in Mobay, but I was told that this was very unusual weather. It didn’t bother me too much – even when it rains, it’s still Jamaica! The people of Jamaica are so upbeat and kind. (They reminded me of Australians, but more laid back, if that’s even possible.)  I would highly recommend Iberostar and Montego Bay. The resort is luxurious from top to bottom and the service is second to none. I really can’t say enough good things about it.

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I’m not sure when we will go on another vacation like this, but even if it’s not for a very long time, I know it would be worth the wait!

Holly Jolly

I am sitting at my kitchen table looking out into the backyard as fat, wet snowflakes fall in mass. Yes, it’s snowing in El Paso! I consider it a day-after-Christmas miracle. Geronimo is in heaven. I’m not sure if he’s seen snow since Germany.  I plan to sit here and enjoy the view while I write.

Our grill and fire pit collecting the snow!

Our grill and fire pit collecting the snow!

Did you have a merry Christmas yesterday? I hope all was calm and all was bright. That pretty well sums up my holiday. Having just come back from vacation, we opted for less hectic Christmas this year. In the 14 Christmases Stephen and I have celebrated together, I’ve never gotten him to agree to such a thing. We skipped presents in favor of stocking stuffers. I loved it! (I’m an anxious person by nature and gift buying stresses me out big time.)

Our day consisted of:

  • breakfast (mimosas! French toast! tamales!)
  • a family walk to the park
  • a two-mile run
  • Christmas music
  • Christmas movies
  • lots of reading (I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain)
  • lounging
  • phone calls to loved ones
  • a fancy dinner (prime rib a la the Pioneer Woman for Stephen and mac and cheese for me)
He was quite happy with the outcome considering our meat thermometer died halfway through the cooking process!

He was quite happy with the outcome considering our meat thermometer died halfway through the cooking process!

  • a puzzle
  • puppy cuddles
  • internet surfing
  • blanket snuggles
  • fuzzy socks

puzzle

This was probably the least remarkable Christmas I’ve ever had but also my favorite. I felt content the entire day – it was fabulous. And waking up to snow this morning is icing on the cake!

Merry Christmas, Y’all!