Oshkosh Oh My Gosh!

Last summer, Stephen was in Afghanistan when his MATV hit an IED. He and his fellow soldiers were thankfully perfectly fine, but it was a jarring experience none the less. Fast forward to this summer – the good people at Oshkosh Defense, where MATVs and other military vehicles are made, read my story and invited me out to see where the magic happens at their factory in Wisconsin. I was hesitant at first. I’m not really a fan of putting myself in situations where I don’t know what to expect. I prefer the routine, the familiar, the quiet and comfortable. Before I could talk myself out of it, I agreed to attending because I knew I’d regret it if I missed this opportunity. The good people at Oshkosh paid for my travel and hotel (and treated me like a queen!), but as always everything you read here is my opinion.


Sunday I flew on two small planes from El Paso to Denver and from Denver to Milwaukee, where I was greeted by a man holding a sign with my name on it. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people at the airport getting picked up with my name on a sign! I spent most of the 90 minute drive to Oshkosh, WI snoozing in the back seat. It was late, and I knew the next day would be a long one. Sure enough, I was up bright and early on Monday.

Factory Tour

I was picked up by Alex, who works for Oshkosh and spent the day with me. Together we hit a local coffee shop for some early morning caffeine. I loved how friendly the people of the town were. Even strangers were saying hello and wishing me a happy day! I knew we were off to a good start.

oshkosh ecoat

The first stop at Oshkosh was the E-Coat factory. This is where all the materials used in the vehicles are painted and treated. There is a very technical chemical process. It looks like a giant carwash that unassembled parts are run through. I even got to see screens where they monitor and make sure everything is running smoothly. The special treatment used on the parts helps increase their durability. It was explained to me that even if they are scratched, the scratch won’t spread because of the chemical process. I thought it was so cool to see the care taken even in regard to the teeniest parts.

We then toured a different plant located right next door where the vehicles are assembled. I got to walk along the factory store and see the chassis turn into MATVs (or other vehicles – I saw cement trucks, fire trucks, all kinds of things) ready to roll off the lot. I was most surprised that everything is put together by people. In my mind, I envisioned an old school conveyor belt whirling and whizzing with machines doing all the hard work. Once again, I saw the passion and care used to put these great products together. I thought it was touching that the thing that keeps my husband safe when he is down range is carefully put together by a person and not a robot.

The Course

Peek-a-boo! Checking out the view from the turret.

Peek-a-boo! Checking out the view from the turret.

The next portion of the day involved me getting to ride around in a MATV on the test track! Stephen thought it was pretty funny that I went all the way to Wisconsin to ride in a MATV when they are all over Fort Bliss and are really NBD to him. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I still thought it was pretty awesome. I strapped into the front passenger seat (the seat belt is a 5 point harness – I kept calling it the car seat) while an experienced driver did the driving. It was bananas! We went up a 50% incline. Then we drove down the 50% incline. To me, it looked straight down. The driver kept warning me that gravity might take over and instead of stopping we’d go fast fast fast. Thankfully that didn’t happen; he seemed in control the whole time as far as I could tell. There was also a 60% incline (eep!) but it was mercifully too muddy for us to drive on. We drove sideways on a 30% incline, we bulldozed over rocky terrain, we even drove up and over an 18 inch vertical wall. I had no idea that MATVs could do all that!

Then…drumroll…we switched seats! I buckled into the driver’s seat and they let me drive! To say I was hesitant is an understatement. After all the inclines and bumps and thumps and scariness of riding in the MATV, I wasn’t up for much. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try. So I drove less than a quarter of a mile before putting it back in park. Haha! The driver encouraged me to drive more and told me I could go over any part of the course I wanted. I had had my fill! That little bit was plenty. I was already impressed with the company and the assembly process and the MATV in general.

The Interview

Oshkosh poster child.

Oshkosh poster child.

The final activity of the day (other than lunch!) was a brief interview. There was a cameraman with legit cameras and the fuzzy microphone. (They even had little cameras inside the MATV a la The Amazing Race! I was living the dream!) I was asked a few easy breezy questions about who I am and my affiliation with the Army, the pros and cons of military life. I then spoke about Stephen’s accident. I hope that I came across sincere because I really do appreciate the hard work of the Oshkosh employees. It was scary knowing that after his truck hit the IED, he had months remaining in his deployment and many similar missions ahead of him. I had the peace of mind knowing that if he was in his vehicle, he had a certain level of protection. (Let’s be real, I always worried about him and never felt he was safe, but at least I knew the truck could take a hit.) It means even more seeing that each part is assembled by an individual. I’m sure they (like everyone else) have days when they aren’t loving their jobs. I just hope they know how much what they do means to families like mine. It’s because of them that Stephen’s accident is a non-story instead of a tragedy.

I was treated to lunch and then was whisked away back to the airport. This is hands down the coolest thing that has happened to me as a result of my blog. I’m so thankful to Oshkosh for what they do day in and day out, as well as hooking me up with this awesome trip!

Amy Reads: The Longest Night

I was so happy that when I returned from vacation to see that The Longest Night had arrived at my doorstep.

longest night

You see, this book was written by someone I consider a dear friend (even though we haven’t met): Andria Williams. Andria is the genius behind Military Spouse Book Review. As the name implies, her blog is a compilation of book reviews written by military spouses. While I’ve written a few reviews myself and I enjoy the posts by others, what I really really love is reading Andria’s writing. She is so smart. (One of my favorite recent posts was this one about Mad Max.) She has a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing. It’s palpable when I read her writing that she loves language. And her deep thoughts on military life always make me think and often touch my heart. When I found out that she was writing a fiction novel (!!), I knew I had to get my hands on it. I was lucky enough to be sent an advance reader’s edition (the book doesn’t come out until January), but all opinions are my own.

The Longest Night opens in Idaho Falls in 1961. Paul and Nat Collier are at a crossroads in their relationship. We don’t know what has happened between them, but we do know that Paul is driving away with a carload of his belongings. As their marriage is crumbling, something is going terribly wrong at the reactor where Paul works. The first page ends dramatically:

Here were the swirling lights of all the vehicles, the steam pumping in a white cloud into the air, Nat watching him drive away, his daughters in their beds, the fire chief waving his arms at Paul’s car and calling something – and he felt the sinking sensation that he was too late for all of it, for Nat, for the boys, for his daughters, for everyone, and it was just as he had always feared: When the time came it would happen before he knew it, it would happen without him there; despite everything he had always done to be ready, he would be too late.

The next page rewinds us back to June 1959, when the Collier family is first arriving in Idaho Falls, when the wheels start turning, when everything is set in motion.

I don’t typically love adult fiction – it’s so serious, but I loved this book.

1. I loved that Andria wrote about things she knows with familiarity. At one point, Nat and Paul are separated for 6 months by the Army. Nat feels his absence acutely. I dog-eared this section: “He was the only one in Idaho who knew her at all, the only person on earth who did, maybe, and how he was gone, and his absence was like a suction in her chest.” I know that feeling, I’ve lived it. I don’t think I could have put such beautiful words to it.

2. I loved that Andria wrote about things (I’m assuming) she’s less familiar with using that same familiarity. The nuclear reactor is central to the story, and Andria describes it as though she herself has worked there! And she made it interesting. I never would have thought I’d want to read about a reactor, but it drew me in. I held my breath as I read about the core and the rods and the boron. And I was eager to read more.

3. I loved the time period. Military wives meet Mad Men. The Cold War. The veneer of perfection. Nannies, Jello molds, that pearly coupe de ville.

4. I loved the pacing. The story never felt sluggish, it never dragged. Something was always happening to propel the story forward. Even with the character development, the pace was strong.

5. I loved the characters. I found both Paul and Nat, the young military couple, to be relatable. Even if you don’t have a military background, I think the fact that they were both trying to figure themselves out, doubting their life choices, worrying about the future – those are universal feelings. I thought the young guys Paul worked with were so realistic. I’ve seen firsthand how young enlisted guys act at a party. Yeah, nailed it. I even liked Paul’s nasty boss and the boss’s prickly wife. They were fun to hate.

I could list 500 things that I loved about this book, but I’ll resist and stop with just one more: Andria is an immensely talented writer. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I know I’m not even doing her work justice. She has written a touching, interesting, smart 375 pages. Put this one on your to-read list, y’all!

Twin Cities Marathon Training Update

I’m already five weeks (!) into marathon training, and I’ve hardly written about it at all.



Like I have previously, I’m once again using the Run Less, Run Faster program. (This method combines two sessions of cross training per week with one interval run, one tempo run, and one long run. I’ve written about it more here if you’re interested.) Let’s take a looksee at how these past few weeks have been:

Week 1: A strong start! I nailed the interval and tempo run, and felt solid on my 8 mile long run. I actually added this week because I knew I’d be on the road when training was supposed to start. I’m so glad I did this! It was a mental boost to start off on the right foot.

Week 2: Kick butt interval run, shortened treadmill tempo run (I was out of town in Dallas for a work conference and had to squeeze it in), sucky 8 mile long run the night before we left for our big vacation.

Week 3: Interval run on a treadmill at the Grand Canyon, Tempo run on a treadmill at Zion, and no long run. I did two really long hikes, though. Does that count?

Week 4: 6 miles of hills in Moab, 10 mile long run, 4th of July 5k.

The view on my Moab run. What a treat!

The view on my Moab run. What a treat!

This week

Interval: I was kind of dreading the interval run. It was 5 rounds of 1000 meters. 1000 meters is .62 of a mile. It really bothered me (probably to an irrational level) that .62 makes for every uneven numbers. I prefer my intervals to be even, like .5. (OCD much?) I worked out all the math before the run and wrote it in a note on my phone. This made it so I didn’t have to do any math on the run. Because I was not excited about this work out, I did it first thing in the week. I’m so glad that I did because I destroyed it! I kicked off the week on a high. I felt awesome, the intervals, for the most part, went by quickly. I hit my goal pace or very close to it every time. Success!

Tempo: The tempo run was rather simple. One warm-up mile, which I ran with Geronimo, 4 miles at 9:07, one cool-down mile. This was my easiest run of the week. I was able to zone out and really enjoy myself. The gorgeous El Paso sunrise didn’t hurt either.

Geronimo. Checking out the sunrise or refusing to pose for a picture mid-run? You be the judge.

Geronimo. Checking out the sunrise or refusing to pose for a picture mid-run? You be the judge.

In fact, I’m finding that I love waking up extra early to run. I’m not sure what will happen when school starts. My school day is very early (I usually arrive around 6:45, and the first bell is at 7:30), and I just don’t think that I have enough time to run, shower, etc. and be at work as early as I like. Hrm.

Long run: 11 miles. Part of me feels like I should be running farther by now. The other part of me (the smart part!) is saying to trust the plan. So that’s what I did this morning. I headed out the door by 5:30, I followed the prescribed paces exactly, and I ran 11 miles. The humidity nearly about did me in. I think it should be illegal for it to get to 90% humidity here. I live in the desert! I didn’t sign up for humid weather! I was sweating a lot, and I was very hungry by the end.

Obligatory phone on the ground timer pic.

Obligatory phone on the ground timer pic.

Cross-training: I got in two hours of yoga, 1 hour on the stationary bike (11 miles!), and 30 minutes on the rower (I hit 5k!) I’ve never been so consistent and focused on cross-training ever. I don’t feel any difference in my running now, but I’m hoping I’ll see long-term benefits.

I’m still working out my fueling. I’ve been using the Waterlogged app to keep tabs on my hydration. I love a good graph! Pre-run, I usually eat pb toast, and that’s working well. My issue is more with what to eat during my run. I’ve tried an assortment of chomps, chews, and beans. I like them, but I don’t love them. On my most recent run, I finished feeling hungry. That won’t do! I’ve used gu in the past, but my stomach isn’t a fan any more. I also did the Swedish Fish thing, but I’ve eaten so many, I don’t know if I can bring myself to eat any more. This will definitely take time and trial and error. (Feel free to throw any suggestions my way!)

I’m also thinking about the logistics of race day. I booked my hotel in Saint Paul! That makes it feel much more real. I’m anticipating that there will be a fair amount of time from when I leave my hotel and to when the race starts. I want to replicate this at least a few times in training. (I didn’t think about it during El Paso Marathon training, and it threw me off on race day.) My plan is to drive across town for a few long runs. That extra time driving to my destination will be as close as I can get to the waiting around on race day.

Overall, I feel solid. I wanted to throw myself completely into training this summer, and I’ve done that. I have fallen back in love with speed work. I’m enjoying cross-training, which is a totally new phenomenon for me! I go back to work a week from Monday (yes, already). I know that will throw a wrench in things, but I know that my foundation is strong. The biggest challenges will be fitting everything in and giving up napping! At this point, though, I’m too determined to be defeated.