Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Five Heroclip Uses for Runners

The Heroclip (Medium and Small versions)

  I first learned about the Heroclip earlier this year while looking for carabiners, or D-rings most of us called them in the military, for some of my camping gear.  I saw Heroclip on Amazon and their product immediately intrigued me.  I bought one and got it a few days later.

The Small Heroclip: Backed with an Indiegogo campaign
  I later backed their expansion campaign on Indiegogo in which they wanted to create and offer smaller sizes and test out a variety of colors.

  I also took advantage of a Black Friday discount code and picked up a regular one on Amazon as well.

  So both came in within a few weeks of each other and I tried them out with some of my running gear to see what additional purposes a runner could use them for.

The Swiveling Hook
  The main feature that separates Heroclip from other carabiners is the swiveling hook.  This hook is very handy to have since it creates a hanging spot almost anywhere.  And it is this feature that makes the Heroclip a great asset for my training runs and post-race antics.

The Heroclip: Hanging up a wet, stinky shirt
  The first way that a Heroclip helps me is I can hang some of my running attire to air and dry after a long run.  My running shirts get soaked with sweat if I run more than four miles so while I’m wearing my after-run shirt, yes on most races I keep an extra shirt in my car, I hang up my used shirt to dry and keep off my seats.

Hooking my trail shoes
  This can also apply to hanging shoes if you hook the carabiner through the shoelaces on top of the tongue or even use the back tabs of running shoes.  This comes in great if you do a trail run and the route is muddy or if you do an obstacle course race and you don’t want to track race mud in your vehicle.

A good sweat towel
Setting up the Heroclip
  Just like the shirt and shoes, you can use the Heroclip to hang up a freshly used towel.  This would have been very handy after my obstacle course races that I’ve done in the past, and you can bet I will use it at the Rugged Maniac OCR in Charleston next year.

It holds water bottles very well

  I also found having the Heroclip on a water bottle to be useful.  I can hang my water bottle in a variety of places and have it waiting for me with easy access.

Using the Heroclip on my backpack

  The carabiner works phenomenally to keep water bladders up while you wash your gear or yourself after a mud run as well.  Just attach the Heroclip to the bladder or a backpack and then hook the ensemble to a high spot such as a tree branch, a pole, or even a ridge on the roof or trunk of your SUV and you’re set.


  And one added bonus of the Heroclip comes with its versatility on running vests.  Just clip it through a loop and you have an emergency hook or carrier with you.

Check my YouTube video here: 

You can purchase the Heroclip at one of the links below:

Heroclip (medium)

Heroclip (small)

Disclaimer: this description contains affiliate links, if you click & make a purchase then at no additional cost to you this channel earns a small commission, which will go to support the production of the content I make.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Aftershokz Trekz Titanium - Headphones for Runners

  Black Friday came around and I put my name on a list for a special offer from Aftershokz.  Aftershokz ran a special “BOGO,” meaning you Buy One set of Aftershokz Trekz Air or Aftershokz Trekz Titanium, you can Gift One set of Aftershokz Titanium for free. 

The Aftershokz Box (look, Priority Mail!)

  Aftershokz’s headphones are not the normal kind of listening device.  They don’t go in the ear; instead, the headset wraps around the back of head and the speakers sit in front of your ears.  They produce vibrations that travel through the cheekbones to the inner ears. This design allows for uninterrupted sound for your enjoyment WHILE you are still able to hear your surroundings.  As I write this, I currently have music playing and the people sitting next to me cannot hear a thing coming from the headphones, while I on the other hand, can hear everything they say.

  I first experienced Aftershokz’s products when I attended the Cooper River Bridge Run Expo earlier this year.  I found the bone conduction technology fascinating, but didn’t buy a pair then for two reasons: 1) I still run almost exclusively with my Microsoft Zune (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it) which is not Bluetooth compatible and 2) the Trekz Titanium retailed for 99.95 USD and the Aftershokz Air for 149.95 USD.  As long as my Zune stayed as my primary form of running entertainment, I couldn’t justify paying for a set of headphones I would use occasionally, no matter how great the Titanium headphones were.

  Fast forward to Thanksgiving time, and I seriously contemplated getting a pair.  My Zune has lasted almost a decade now and Microsoft stopped making that MP3 player several years ago.  At some point, it will die on me, but I’m still amazed at its battery life and functionality.

Brand new in box
 When I received an invitation from Aftershokz for their BOGO #GiveGoodVibes campaign, I signed up.  Aftershokz set the initial limit to the first 2,000 orders, and just because I registered for the event did not mean I had to commit to the deal.  Well, during Black Friday, or rather Thursday evening before Black Friday, we casually went shopping and the window opened for the BOGO offer.  I thought and thought, and after an hour, I looked at their website and saw that not only did the BOGO offer was live, but Aftershokz ran a discount on the Trekz Titanium and the Trekz Air.  The Aftershokz Titanium went from 99.95 to 79.95 USD and the Air went from 149.95 to 119.95 USD.  With a discount AND the BOGO offer looming over my screen, it didn’t take much to place my order.  Aftershokz later extended the deal for additional 2,000 sets on Friday.  

    Less than two weeks later, I received my order in the mail.  A nice blue, decorated box with the Aftershokz logo and priority mail postage sat at my front door.  I opened it and there sat two pairs of Aftershokz Titanium: one in a normal box and the other in a gift bag marked with the #GiveGoodVibes tag.

  As much as I wanted to rip into the box, that particular set was reserved for someone else in my life, and I had no problem with taking the gift bag set.  The gift bag held the Titanium headset, a pair of earplugs, a USB charging cable, spacers for the headphones in case someone has a smaller head, the warranty card, a quick start guide, and a multi-language maintenance and support sheet.

  Aftershokz sends out its headphones with half a charge, but I wanted to charge mine all the way before I played with it. 

the multi-function button
the volume buttons
The Titanium has a multi-function button on the left side of the headphones and two volume control buttons along with the charging port on the bottom of the right side.  

    To turn on the Trekz Titanium, you hold down the volume up, or “+,” button.  Seems pretty simple.  I also keep finding out my Titanium’s battery when I press the “+” button as well.

  I’ve tested the Aftershokz in several different environments: leaf blowing, a phone call, music from my laptop, a game on my cell phone, and general wearing.  While I worked on my backyard with noisy equipment, I could easily hear my playlist with no distortion from the leaf blower.  As for the phone call, I honestly did not know the Titanium worked as a speaker and listening device; I thought I purchased just a listening set.  I tapped a button on the headphones and amazingly, the call picked up.   This also threw my brother off as well, since as much as I love technology and trends, I am slow to actually buy things for myself like that.

How the headphones sit on my head
  After doing yard work, I went inside, synched the Titanium with my laptop and listened to music while I worked on some other things on my laptop and later around the house.  The bass on the Titanium is even better than I remembered from the running expo earlier this year.  And when I paired the headphones back to my cell phone to play a game, I heard subtle sounds the game programmers put in the game; sounds I couldn’t pick out on my phone’s own speakers.

  I will say that you shouldn’t set the audio volume to full on the Titanium when playing music.  I listened to a particular Krewella song with some good bass that vibrated a lot on my cheeks due to the Aftershokz’s bone conduction method.  It felt very weird before I finally turned the volume down. 

  It’s really amazing how I could listen to my music and hear my surroundings every time I used the headset.  They stayed firmly on my head with no bobbing or bouncing around.  I presume the spacers will do the same for people with smaller heads, if they are properly placed on the headset.

  These headphones are great for hearing whatever I want to listen to while also letting me stay aware of my surroundings because I can hear noises that would otherwise be drowned out by normal headphones.

  If you are on the fence about getting a set of Aftershokz’s headphones, any of them, I suggest checking out a store that sells them because quite a few have a demo pair nearby.  Also, Aftershokz does run the occasional sale and discount.  Amazon sells Aftershokz products and if you have a gift card this Christmas, birthday, or any other occasion, they would make a good choice.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The 2018 Savannah Bridge Run Recap

Disclaimer: I received a free entry into the Savannah Bridge Run because of my agreement to share footage I recorded during the race.

  I first learned about the Savannah Bridge Run while I researched hotel accommodations for next year’s Cooper River Bridge Run.  When Enmarket’s Savannah Bridge Run popped up during a search result, I dove deeper and learned quite a bit about “the South’s Toughest Bridge Run.”  This particular race offered three distances: the 5k, the 10k, and “the double pump” which is a combination of the two for a total of 15 kilometers.

  The 5k race starts on Hutchinson Island and crosses the Talmadge Bridge in a north to south fashion before finish a block away from the Savannah Civic Center.  The 10k starts at the Savannah Civic Center, goes across the bridge to the 5k start point and turns around to complete at the same finish line as the 5k.  The Double Pump has participants run with the 5k crowd and then take off with the 10k people during the start time. 

  Working with one of the organizers, I opted for the 5k race since the vast majority of the up-to 3,000 participants does that race.  I guess going over the bridge once is enough for most people.

  As usual, I had my GoPro set up a week before the race. I studied the course map, looked at previous years’ results, and prepared my race attire for a balmy run.  But as the week went on, a cold front took hold of my city and had me a little worried.  I thought that if a cold front hit central South Carolina, what would take its place when it finally lifted?  I checked the weather and from Columbia down to Savannah, meteorologists predicted warmth with some rain from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.  Each passing day, I looked at updated weather information for Savannah, and while prospects of delayed rain sounded good, I added my GoPro selfie stick to my gear list in case the weather worsened. 

  We made our way down to Savannah Friday afternoon and had rain showers teasing us along the way.  I almost got ran off the road by a moving rental truck because the driver didn’t pay attention while changing lanes; these were not good signs. 

  We arrived at the Savannah Bridge Run expo with 40 minutes to spare, but from planning ahead earlier in the week, I asked a fellow Team Red White and Blue member to pick up our packets.  She worked a booth for the Publix Savannah women’s half marathon & 5k and happily handed us our shirts, bibs, and safety pins. 

  After checking into our hotel, I looked at the weather once again.  This time, weathermen predicted the rain would hit the Savannah area at 7 AM.  Up until that time, 7 AM on a Saturday, looked like 20% chance of rain with 90-100% happening after 1 PM.  Great, I thought to myself, I really did not want to aim the GoPro at myself the whole race.  But that is the only rain-proof set up I have for my GoPro. 

  Now, the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run uses an app to push out information in addition to having a dedicated website.  According to both, 5k participants were highly encouraged to park at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, located right next to the 5k starting line.  Trolleys would bring people from the finish line back to their original spots.  Since we left our daughters back at the hotel, I parked near the Civic Center and we caught a race trolley up to the starting line assembly area. 

  At the starting line, I saw a plethora of ruckers, quite a few costumed individuals and families, a handful of Team Red White and Blue shirts and apparel, and many, many people gathering around and talking.  I almost felt like I was back in Charleston for their Bridge Run.  The race announcer came on the speaker systems several times to put out information and one of the biggest for everyone out there was that runners should form up on the left side of the start line and walkers should go to the right side. 

Near the start. Runners to the left and walkers on the right
  We were supposed to start at 8 AM for the 5k race.  Here is where I tip my hat to the race organizers; the last race trolley carrying runners from the main land got stuck in traffic and they didn’t want the runners to miss out, so the race organizers held off the start by almost 15 minutes.  I believe this to be a good decision on their part.  There may have been almost 2500 people already at the start line, but that last bus of about 40 people would have missed out on an electrifying time.  No one complained or booed when the announcer explained why the race didn’t start on time.

  As per usual, I make my way to the very back of the crowd before the race started.  I really need to gauge crowds better, because once the race officially started, it took me three full minutes to cross the actual start line.  AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck” played at the signal of the race start, and it sounded almost done once I had room to run.  I’m not fast anymore, but according to Strava, it took me 10 and a half minutes to complete my first mile, mostly from being around the back crowds.  But I still had fun because I knew I couldn’t compete with the likes of sprinters, fitness fanatics, professional runners, and people still in the military.  I will say that my mile times throughout the race got better as I moved past people and as the crowds thinned out.

Near the 1st mile mark. Still crowded but thining.
  That first mile may have been very crowded, but it didn’t have the huge incline.  The second mile contained all of the bridge, and while the top of the bridge was only 100 feet higher than the rest of the ground, that incline got to a lot of people.  I thoroughly enjoyed it though, which is surprising because that incline is a steeper angle than what takes place in Charleston.  Once I crested the top of the bridge, that steep incline gave way to a steep decline, but I still ran with a relatively smooth pace or at least what felt like a good pace.  

Here comes the exhaust fumes
During my time on the bridge, I paid sharp attention to the traffic.  Everyone running in the race stayed in the marked-off right lane of the right side of the bridge, with the left lane of the right side of the bridge allocated for traffic going the same way as us.  The left side of the bridge had two lanes open for oncoming traffic.  I wish the right side of the bridge was completely shut down for just pedestrians and vehicle traffic restricted to the left side of the bridge.  This thought came to mind as a semi-trailer rolled past a bunch of us and we breathed in its exhaust.  Fortunately, that was the only big vehicle going past us during the race.

  The third mile occurred during the off-ramp and contained the one other incline for the race, something that mentally caught me off-guard.  But that was uneventful and my third mile time jumped back to a somewhat normal 8:30ish mile time. As I neared the finish area, I saw a supportive crowd behind pedestrian gates.  I rounded that corner and saw the finish line, got my finisher’s medal after crossing and looked for a bottle of water.  The overall atmosphere at the finish line felt festive. 

  One of the biggest things I think about when it comes to a race is water station placement.  I am used to water stations near mile markers or at easily accessible spots along the course.  This course had two stations: one around the .4 mile mark and again at the 2.7 mile mark.  I presume the organizers placed the water stations before and after the bridge due to space limitations on the bridge itself, but I know I was not the only one who would have enjoyed a refreshing drink after running a mile.  I found the water table after the finish line and two different size water bottles were offered to finishers.  I also got to eat some fruit; there was no shortage of bananas, much to my delight.

  The medal itself looks very nice and I’m quite impressed with the weight, feel, style, and overall composition of the bridge medal.  The long sleeve race shirt is a thin Delta Dri shirt and will definitely be worn in cool weather while I’m running.  

It is a nice view up here
  Other than the weird water station placements and traffic driving in the lane next to us on the bridge, this was definitely a nice experience and something I recommend to anyone who would be in the Savannah area in early December.  Walking or running over the Savannah River on the Talmadge Bridge is not something that can not normally be done unlike the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.  So when an event like this happens, that is your ticket to conquer this particular bridge.

You can check out what the race looked like around me with this video: 


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What Is Inside A Honey Stinger Variety Pack?

  I recently became a Honey Stinger Ambassador and wanted to stock up on some of their products.  I’ve been a fan of their organic honey waffles for quite a while, but haven’t tried some of their other items.  So when I saw Honey Stinger offered a 10 piece variety pack, I jumped on it.  Honey Stinger uses organic honey as their main ingredient for fuel and helps anyone who wants looking for that bit of energy for their outdoor enjoyment.

  The other day, my Honey Stinger package arrived and I was pretty stoked to check out its contents.  Opening the box, Honey Stinger packed my variety pack in a Cherry Almond Protein Bar box, but had markings indicating that this was indeed their variety pack.

10 items to try, test, and enjoy

Organic Waffles. Love the Wildflower Honey.

 The first group of Honey Stinger goodness were four waffles.  Two organic packs consisting of one pack lemon flavored and one pack vanilla flavored. The other two packs are gluten free and consist of one pack wildflower honey and one pack salted caramel flavored.  Most people find Honey Stinger's organic waffles to be good before or during a run. 

Next, I pulled out Honey Stinger's two bags of organic energy chews.  I received two in their variety box: Pink Lemonade and Fruit Smoothie.  These make for a perfect energy snack, either on the go or just to tide over hunger until a main meal.  I tried the Pink Lemonade and they were so delicious, I was disappointed I only got one pack.
I think Pink Lemonade will be my favorite energy chew

 After the energy chews, I grabbed their two packed-in snack bars.  One is almond butter, dark chocolate, and sea salt while the other consists of peanut butter, milk chocolate, and sea salt. These are advertised as a good snack to have.

Better than a granola bar

Up next, I snagged the energy bar. Don't let the picture fool you, the rocket chocolate energy bar looks a lot better in person.  This category of Honey Stinger products is great for during or after exercising.  

Better in real life

And the final one is the Honey Stinger Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond protein bar.  Protein bars are great for strength training and people recommend eating them during or after a workout.  I, for one, will pass this particular protein bar to my wife, since I am not a fan of coconut in my food.  But that is why a variety pack is good to get, for the variety and if there is something that is not to your liking, you can always give it to a friend, colleague, or a family member.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Veterans Day 5k Recap

  Veterans Day has slowly become one of my more earnest holidays.  This Veterans Day is the first one in which I finally hung up the uniform after 25 years.  It is also the 100th anniversary to the end of World War I aka the Great War or The War to End All Wars.  Veterans Day started as Armistice Day internationally in 1919, but the United States took an extra step and decided to honor all its veterans in 1954. 

  This year, the University of South Carolina Student Government and the University of South Carolina Student Veterans Association worked together to raise money for the Fisher House in Columbia.  The Fisher House is a place for military families to stay while someone receives treatment at a military hospital with duration lasting longer than a day.  My son and I used the Fisher House at Fort Hood in 2002 when my wife and later my daughter were hospitalized with a serious case of the flu.  We were not stationed at Fort Hood at the time, so the benefits of staying at a place very close to an Army medical center, especially for free, had its benefits.  Thus I could get behind this cause.  This inaugural Veterans Day 5k was their way to raise that money.

  However, I did not learn about this particular race until the week of the race.  Now, this particular Veterans Day weekend contained several races with the biggest one being the Lexington Run Hard half-marathon, 10k, and 5k races, so I was pretty surprised to see over 180 runners and walkers out there in front of the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library. 

  When I arrived at the starting point, I saw the line for packet pick-up and registration.  The line snaked and wiggled about but I eventually got to the front.  The volunteers took my name but then informed me that they ran out of shirts in my size.  Another volunteer heard this and quickly pointed out that they still had a box of shirts to go through, so after a few minutes, I eventually got my size large shirt.  But I didn’t get a goodie bag like those before me, so I have no idea what promotional information the recyclable gift bags contained.  I wasn’t upset about it, but mostly perplexed since I saw so many bags behind the volunteers.

The original course

  When I signed up, I had no idea what the route would be, but one of my friends had a print-out and let me look at it.  This was an entirely new course for me, and I was thrilled about that. 
  We started a couple of minutes late, but that was no big deal.  Once the horn blared a couple of times, people moved across the start line.  Channel 10 had a news person out there to cover the race, but somehow I missed that until a day after the event.

  Over 180 of us marched past the starting point and ran down Greene Street before turning onto Main Street.  We had a nice half mile of a downhill slope to help.  When I rounded the corner onto Wheat Street, I saw that we would go over Assembly Street via the footbridge; I’ve always wanted to run on that thing, even though it doesn’t look that special.  After the footbridge, though, is where a lot of us got lost, even if it was only for a little bit.  According to the map, we should have climbed up the second footbridge, but instead we ran past it and went down Park Street to circle back to Assembly Street.  I followed the runners in front of me and eventually they crossed Assembly Street to get back onto Wheat Street.  But without any volunteers or police directing traffic, it felt a little dangerous to do this. 

How I ran the 5k course
  The rest of the run stayed on course with little issues until right before the finish line.  As I rounded the final corner towards the finish line, I thought a police officer yelled at me to continue running in a straight line, instead of turning.  What apparently happened though, is that she tried to get the attention of two other runners who just finished the race and were walking away from the finish line; she thought they hadn’t crossed the last stop.  So I spent a couple of seconds pretty confused about which way I was supposed to go because I thought the policewoman wanted my attention. 

  Even with the misdirection at the finish line and going a different route, I did manage to run a complete 5k in distance.  I wasn’t thrilled with my time since I hovered at 28 minutes.  I’ve been slowly losing my running speed since I left the service, but I’ll work on that later.
My buddy and me after the race

  The awards ceremony took place just under an hour from the start of the race.  During the ceremony, we watched as 91 year old Thomas Peel, a World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veteran, rounded the corner and pushed towards the finish line.  Once the award ceremony resumed, I got a chance to see the medals.  While only the top place in each division got one, the medals looked nice and distinguished themselves from other race medals by being made of wood. 

Nick and Thomas Peel
  Before the awards ceremony, the race director acknowledged that there were hiccups with this race.  It is the first year for the Veterans Day 5k and even with the missteps, the 5k race still went well.  Since the head of the University of South Carolina Student Veterans Association also headed up the ceremony and asked several participants how the race went, I feel assured that next year’s race will go a lot smoother. 
  You can see a brief overview of the Veterans Day 5k here: The Veterans Day 5K

Monday, November 5, 2018

World Wrestling Entertainment's Program to the Military: Free Tickets to Live Shows

  I’ve been deployed to the Middle East several times and for most of them, I’ve noticed that a certain sports entertainment program loves to be shown on the American Forces Network, or AFN for short.  AFN is a television and radio network service operated around the world where American Armed Forces are located.  I remember watching little bits of AFN as a kid in Germany, and I’ve seen or heard AFN plenty of times when I was in the Middle East and South Asia.  They also have a presence in Europe and the Far East.

  That sports entertainment program belongs to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE.  I used to watch WWF as it was known back then when I was a kid; my brother and I ate it up.  But I stopped watching wrestling when I joined the Army and didn’t get back into it almost two decades later when I learned that the WWE would send some of their wrestling superstars out to the Middle East as a part of several morale boosting tours.  I watched WWE shows, to include pay-per-view events, on AFN while treadmill running during deployments when I couldn’t run outside.  I ran six or more miles with those WWE shows on; I knew wrestling wasn’t real, but I could appreciate the athleticism, stunts, and work ethic.  The only drawback to the WWE’s shows were the one day delayed broadcasts, but when you’re deployed, does it really matter?

  A few years ago, my brother informed me that the WWE had a program which allowed military members and their families to attend live shows for free.  You can read about more about it here (  I’ve taken my family to four different shows in three cities and can relate what I learned if you want to take advantage of WWE’s program. It is a good program if you want to see a top quality wrestling but there are a few caveats to be aware of.

The Phenomenal One, AJ Styles

The New Day versus Bray Wyatt and his henchmen
  The first place I took my family to was in Augusta about two ago for a WWE Live house show.  The James Brown Arena can host up just over 9000 people but as with most WWE shows I’ve seen on the television, there are some sections that go empty and get covered up (more on that later).  Also, Augusta is where I first learned that everyone in your party has to have a military ID card to get in for free.  While my older two and I had a military ID card, my youngest did not because the military won’t issue an ID card to children under 10 years old unless the military parent is divorced or single.  So, out of the four of us who went, I only had to pay for one ticket, and even then, the arena charged me for a child’s ticket.   The James Brown Arena also picked out the seats for us, even before I had to buy my daughter’s ticket, however, we had a fantastic view of the New Day, Alexa Bliss, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Sheamus, AJ Styles, and Roman Reigns.  My phone didn’t take great pictures, but the overall view was phenomenal. 

Becky Lynch and Charlotte signing a match contact
  The second time I took advantage of the WWE military program happened when WWE’s Smackdown came to Columbia last year.  Again, I had to buy my youngest child’s ticket, and again, the ticket distributor picked our seats for us.  The Colonial Life Arena can host up to 18000 people but since this was a Smackdown Live show, several upper sections had black screens places over them to corral people into the background on the TV broadcast.
  I loved watching the show in the Colonial Life Arena because even though we sat in one of the upper sections, we again had a great view of the show and saw Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, and Kane.  The sections in that arena are not stacked as vertically as other arenas, so you don’t feel far from the action.

Flames light up for Kane

Sheamus and Cesaro. Love their entrance
  The third time I went to a WWE show, I took only the youngest and she was shy of her 10th birthday by a month.  Not thrilled about buying a ticket that WWE said would be free, but I am presuming that because this was a WWE Live house show, aka not a televised show, we actually had a chance to pick any open seat available to include seats right along the ring.  I would still have to pay for my daughter so we chose a cheaper seat.  Being that this happened at the Colonial Life Arena again, just about any seat available had a very great unobstructed close view of the WWE superstars and the squared circle.

Shinuske Namamura, the King of Strong Style. The house show's audience was about half full.

  The latest opportunity I had for a WWE show happened in Charlotte for WWE Raw.  My two daughters and I drove up there with time to spare and since my youngest was now 10 years old, all tickets requested would be free.  WWE Raw took place at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center which can hold as many as 20,000 people in the stadium.  We asked for our tickets and the staff issued us three tickets for section 223.  The Spectrum Center’s upper sections are pretty high up and while we had a nice view of the arena, the actual wrestling ring looked somewhat diminutive compared to past experiences.  Fortunately, a very giant screen broadcast the action that the home viewers would see above the ring.   While the wrestling action looked smaller than what we were used to, the sounds carried through probably because the backstage crew places microphones under or near the ring to pick up the sounds of body slams, slaps, and falls. 
Who wants to walk with Elias?

So high up at the Spectrum Center


The main points I learned from WWE’s support to the military:

1.      Free tickets are available the day of the event to anyone holding a military ID card. This includes active duty military, National Guard members, reservists, retired personnel, and military dependents.
2.      Each venue will determine where you sit, especially if the WWE is taping at that event, though you may have some leeway on which seats in a particular section.
3.      However, it is possible that you can get a great seat, especially along ringside, if the WWE show is a non-televised event, but this depends on the venue.
4.      WWE gives the military free entry to every event but WrestleMania.  I haven’t tried this at any pay-per-view shows, but I can confirm that you can get in televised Raw tapings, televised Smackdown Live shows, and normal house shows.
5.      WWE will have some of their superstars visit military bases overseas though the frequency has gone down as conflicts and military deployments decreased over the years.

WWE can be a polarizing organization these days and there are also people out there who look down on something that is fake, but there is an enjoyment to be had watching these people in person. 

(And I apologize for some of the pictures not being the best.)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saddam Hussein Made Me Run the Fastest in My Life

  Having been in the military for over 25 years, I’ve done a lot of running.  My fastest recorded time was 13:20 for a two mile run during the Army’s Physical Fitness Test.  I used to hover between 14 minutes to 14 and a half on those tests after basic training, but managed to get under the 14 minute mark a few times afterwards, most noticeably before graduation at the Warrant Officer Candidate School, and once in Iraq (with a time of 13:51 and I had a bad upset stomach that whole day which might have helped motivate me to finish sooner).

 However, none of those compare to what should be the fastest I ever ran when I went more than half of a mile back in 2003 because a certain dictator ordered his forces to launch SCUD missiles into Kuwait.  Missiles that Iraq wasn’t supposed to have, and missiles that were rumored to have chemical payloads in them, which was later proven to be false.  But when you hear warning sirens and don’t know that at the time, you don’t take chances.
  From the moment we got orders to move out to Kuwait, we constantly received briefs and warnings that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and based off historical data of Iraq fighting Iran and their quelling of the Kurd uprisings, and they wouldn’t be afraid to use them.  So we had to have our Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) gear with or near us once we got in country. 

  Before all that, however, it was December 2002 and I was still in the beltway getting ready to head out to my next assignment.  Coming from the D.C. area, I got an ear full of the buildup that would be happening; not from the military, but from the news because Washington was pretty plugged into international affairs obviously and they loved talking about subjects like this.  So when I showed up in Kentucky, rumors were already flying around on when we would depart.  My buddy talked me into coming into the unit to say hello while I was still on leave (military term for time off aka vacation time) and we met up with our chief, who upon learning about my background and skills, wanted me to sign in early.  After talking with my wife about it all, we decided I needed to get into the unit quickly and help out as much as possible.  We prepped equipment, went through pre-deployment training, and sat through a lot of meetings and medical preparation appointments.  Through it out, someone determined that I would not go with the main body but head out two weeks later and escort a bunch of follow-on equipment. Yea. 

  Once I got out there, the higher ups kept trying to figure out which team to put me on.  Since I trained in several languages, I was considered a boon to either team, but either way, I would be with a great group of guys.  I did physical training with the first team I was supposed to be a part of. We ran between three to four miles every other day, which was supposed to be at our own pace but I think I got up late so I would have to hurry to get to the chow tent after physical training and personal hygiene.  I got a tour of the gym up on “the Rock,” which was where the majority of the permanent party Air Force stayed and most didn’t seem to care that a bunch of Army people were hanging out on “their” base. Friendly rivalries and what not.

  After about two or three weeks of being on the ground, we started to get pretty comfortable with our routines, but knew the decision to cross would come at some point.  We started relaxing a bit but kept abreast of the latest predicament.  And almost of us kept our NBC gear in our tents.  You would spot the occasional guy carrying his gas mask everywhere.

 One morning, I’m eating a late breakfast with some buddies and the chow tent was kind of full of people.  Suddenly we overheard the Giant Voice system.  Now normally, we only heard the Giant Voice when the Air Force did their weekly tests. It would say something like, “Attention. Attention.  Attention. This is the Giant Voice. This is a weekly test of the Giant Voice.” Or something very similar. 

  Not this time. 

  I’m in a dining tent surrounded by people who looked like they taught Arnold Schwarzenegger how to lift weights when the Giant Voice goes “Attention, attention, attention…” and we’re still eating as usual. 

  Then we hear “this is NOT a test. Incoming, incoming, incoming” and all those musclebound guys got up so quickly, left their trays on the table and started rushing for the tent exit.  I looked around and figured that there was no way I would be able to squirm my way through all these people in the rush to leave the chow tent, so I end up eating a couple of more bites of my food as I wait for the exit to get somewhat cleared and I would run as quickly as possible to my tent and don my NBC gear while simultaneously rushing to the nearest bunker.  As quickly as I eventually moved this was not the fastest I ran.  But it was damn near close.

  We eventually ended up getting these alerts 13 more times in Kuwait and they became so erratic and annoying that during one particular rocket warning in the middle of the night, I just rolled over on my cot and muttered that I wasn’t leaving my sleeping bag and if I got hit and killed, at least I would have some rest.  Between the rocket attacks and the Harrier jets taking off several times between midnight and 3 in the morning, I was pretty tired and sometimes crabby first thing in the morning.

   When word finally came down that we would finally cross the border and head into Iraq, the call was made that I would go with the first supply train up since one of the teams was still short a member and he was bringing additional equipment and training for me to go over.  I wasn’t thrilled with the decision especially since I missed out on the main body movement into Kuwait from Kentucky, but even as a somewhat senior staff sergeant, I was pretty low on the rank totem pole in the unit and just went with the flow.  

  We had a couple of missile warnings happen after the main body initially pushed into Iraq, but it was the final rocket attack that I experienced which would make me metaphorically outrun any animal in Kuwait. 

  One morning, I headed out to the motor pool to look for any special gear the team would need before I arrived at their location (it was finally determined which team I would be a part of by this point. I think one of the captains realized it was silly to have two teams broken down by one language set a piece, so the other guy, who was only trained in Farsi, and I would officially swap teams.  Now, both teams could cover both potential language sets while out in Iraq).  I went rummaging around in our group’s ISU-90 storage container.

  I picked out and sorted batteries, cables, and various mounts when it happened.

  I heard this thunderous "BOOM" behind me and I immediately looked up.  I saw this Patriot missile flying over my head and it looked about 50 to 100 feet above me.  The funny thing about seeing the missile was that it looked nothing like the news footage I remembered seeing during Operation Desert Storm; back then any Patriot missile launches looked like they were aimed straight at a target.  This missile canted at roughly a 45 degree angle while flying in practically a straight horizontal line over me.  It didn’t even out and start climbing until it cleared the other side of the side of the runway, which looking back now, it is a good thing no aircraft were taking off at that time.

  But once I saw the Patriot missile shoot over my head, I felt my heart bursting and I needed to find my NBC gear. But it was all in my tent, and with no hesitation, I sprinted like a gazelle all the way back to my tent.  I took off so quickly while trying to keep an eye on the Patriot’s trajectory that I barely realized that I didn’t hear the Giant Voice had not gone off.  I also bolted out of the motor pool so hurriedly that I left our storage container wide open with all the picked out gear strewn around.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I stumbled over a cable when I initially took off.  I ran and stayed on the streets for as much as I could because common sense did eventually kick in and I remembered that running on top of Kuwait sand would slow me down, especially since I was sprinting for my life in Army boots.  When I got to the compound, I made a bee line towards my tent.  By now, most people were in the bunkers, most likely hunkered down.  I, on the other hand, tore apart my bags because I had everything packed for the convoy, all while trying to catch my breath.  By the time I got my NBC gear and donned the over-garments to be in MOPP level 2, I was still heavily panting.  I was so out of breath from all the running and rushing that it took me a good 2 minutes once I got in my tent to finally get my mask on.  If you haven’t worn a gas mask before, you can only really breathe normally in that thing; the filters work in a way that you cannot suck in extra air quickly.  It also didn’t help that I was gasping for air so badly that it took a while for me to clear my mask in order to create a good seal around my face. 

  Once I got my NBC suit fully on, I made my way to a nearby bunker and sat with the rest of the people inside.  My heart was still pounding, but at least my breathing was manageable. I remember clutching my atropine injectors in my mask carrier in case a SCUD missile would hit near us.  Fortunately, the SCUD missiles that Iraq had were pretty inaccurate.  That or the Iraqi Army did the whole “point, fire, and forget” method of rocket launching.  We eventually got the all clear signal and I headed back to my tent to drop my NBC gear and get back to the motor pool, especially since I left the container wide open with stuff laid out all over the place. 

  I don’t think I can ever run that fast again, but I know adrenaline does wonders in a high stress environment and can help carry you over time and distance.  Considering I usually ran a seven minute mile back in those days, I would guess I was pushing a six minute pace because of the fear and excitement. But at least now I had one of those funny war stories to tell people back home, even if I had the fright of my life at the time.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Private Murphy Gets In the Way Again

  In the military, Murphy’s Law is something we always think about when making plans.  If you weren’t familiar with this adage, it’s “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  In the Army, some of us have taken to calling Murphy’s Law “Private Murphy,” because it would usually be a private or someone low ranking who doesn’t pay attention to the details of the mission and messes up the scenario.  Well, Private Murphy decided to come along for a trail running race with my wife and I, and it cost us more than being able to cross the finish line. 

  Several months ago, I received an invitation to run in a brand new half-marathon race due to my video recording abilities.  This past April, I ran in the initial True to the Brew Trail Run/Hike, a 6.5 mile trek through a part of the Palmetto Trail.  In usual fashion, I ran with my GoPro Hero 6 to record the course as I ran and augmented it with the Karma Grip to keep the camera stable while recording.  The highlight video I created from that race impressed the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, the organization responsible for the promotion, care taking, and maintenance of the Palmetto Trail and Grit Endurance who organized the race.  I felt very ecstatic about all this and wanted to provide the same type of video with the half marathon.

  But I haven’t run a half-marathon in almost three years from the start date of the True to the Brew Half Marathon.  I don’t count the Bad Rock Ultra, even though I complete 13.1 miles because I had 12 hours to complete at least three laps totaling the half marathon distance and I had (almost) all the time in the world to rest between laps. 

  So in typical military leadership fashion, I decided to do use the “backwards planning” technique to figure out what all I needed to do and prepare for some kind of success with recording and running in this race. 

When I initially got the race invitation, I looked up Croft State Park, the location for the True to the Brew half marathon and saw some steep hills in this section of the Palmetto Trail.  This made me think that I would be going a lot slower than I would want.  It would require me to get new running gear, expand my electronics capabilities, and keep myself going the whole time.

  I knew my time has significantly slowed down since the year before I retired from the Army, but that I was also going a little slower than normal on the two half marathons I participated in back in 2015.  My average times back then for a half marathon were about an 8:40 mile with an overall run time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.  I wanted to run the True to the Brew in about a 9:30 mile to even a 10 minute mile pace pitting me in the range of around 2 hours and 10 minutes.  Considering I am normally comfortable running between a five and 10 kilometer distance, I didn’t need to work on short, fast distances but focus on a slower long distance pace.  I commenced on running my training runs at a 9:30 pace while just running whatever time I could on a regular race before the True to the Brew happened.  I built a plan to implement longer distances as race day and race week got closer with the help of backwards planning.

  When it came to recording the footage, I knew my GoPro Hero 6 would need an upgrade in SD cards.  I run with a 32 Gigabyte card.  With most GoPro settings such as Pro Tune turned off, I get 1:50:00 to record.  Looking my best time for a half-marathon, I would be short at least five minutes if I just ran with my equipment as is.  So, I had to shop around for a 64 Gig SD card that could handle the taxing requirements of a Hero 6.  There’s a big difference the SD cards that work in the GoPro Hero 5 and older iterations and the GoPro Hero 6.  Anyway, besides the race itself, I try to record the before and after scenes of the race.  That meant I definitely need to get the bigger card, so after searching Amazon, Best Buy, and Target, I got one on Ebay for about ten dollars cheaper than anything in stores.  And a 64 Gigabyte SD card brought my recording time to three hours and forty minutes. 

  But I had another problem and one I couldn’t simply upgrade with an SD card.  The GoPro Karma Grip has a battery life of one hour and 45 minutes.  I figured I need to do one of two things: either select times to turn on the GoPro for recording or come up with a plan to charge the Karma Grip during the race.  Since I hadn’t run that trail before, the first option didn’t seem reasonable to me, so I went with the latter.  To do that though, I research if it was possible and it was with a portable battery charger, but I couldn’t find anyone showing how long using a battery charger would prolong the GoPro Karma Grip’s power usage.  I ran my own tests and came up with two hours and 30 minutes.  That worked for me, but I would need to have a means to carry a battery charger during the race. 

  I determined that I would have to wear a trail running vest for this race.  I have never worn one for a run before so I reached out to several YouTubers who were very familiar with running vests and went with a very inexpensive but usable trail running vest sold on Amazon.  I tested it out a couple of times and would adjust its fitting periodically.

  I also determined that while I usually don’t carry additional water or supplements during any runs or races, I figured I should have a couple of my Science In Sport gel packs, especially since this was a trail race with hills and water stations would be placed three to four miles apart.  I could carry them in my new trail vest, too.

  I also had to get new running shoes for this race.  When I ran the 6.5 mile race back in April I skipped on wearing my favorite running shoes, my On Cloudflyer and used a normal looking New Balance Vazee because On’s shoes are notorious for picking up rocks, acorns, and anything small that would get wedged between the cloud pockets.  Fortunately, a local outdoors store had a great sale on shoes and I spotted a pair of Altra trail shoes for about sixty US dollars.  However, Altra shoes are known for their “zero drop” style shoes.  “Zero drop” means that your toes and heels are on the same level in the shoes as opposed to most shoes where the heel is slightly higher due to increased cushioning built into the shoes.  My Altra Lone Peak 3.5 shoes had great grips for trails but I would need to wear them for the better part of six weeks to get used to how they felt and how to run in them without injuring myself.

  After I went through and did a PCI, or Pre Combat Inspection, of all my new gear and checked my training, I felt more prepared to do this race.  We drove up on Saturday morning to do the race and got there in plenty of time for packet pickup.  A little after 7:30 AM, the True to the Brew Half Marathon officially started and I was feeling good.  150 of us went running down the street and into the entrance for the Palmetto Trail within Croft State Park.  I had a nice pace of 10:30 a mile due to the bunching of several runners resulting in a lengthy single file line of runners for over a mile. 

  I hit the first water station, located about 4.5 miles into the race at about the 50 minute mark.  Not my best time and definitely slower than I anticipated from all my training and studying of the race course, but if I kept that pace, I would finish at the 2:15 mark and be good with recording everything before I lost power.  But as I started to head out, I got a text from my wife that she fell along the course and heard a loud crack.  A fellow runner saw her and told her that she was near the four mile mark.  When she relayed all that information to me, I took off in a dead sprint back to the four mile mark.  I got there but saw no sign of my wife so I range walked (fast walking, that’s all that is) for a bit before picking up a jog and continuing on.  I kept checking my phone to see how far back I had gone and finally saw her sitting on the side of a hill at roughly the five kilometer mark.  Her ankle was incredibly swollen, almost the size of a grapefruit.  I sent out a message to the race organizer, Erin, and let her know I needed help with my wife.  A little later, a first aid person showed up and triaged her and a little later that, another came by with an ATV to move her back to the starting line.  The first aid guy, Brendan, and I trekked back to a collection point and eventually made it back to the start line.  Once there, I drove my wife to an urgent care facility and that pretty much ended our race.  We got home, elevated her foot, grabbed pain medications, and scheduled a follow up appointment with her doctor.

   So while I had prepared everything I would carry and implemented a training plan for myself, Private Murphy still showed up and managed to FUBAR what should have been a good race for my wife and myself. 

  I did manage to put together a video onthe first leg of the race, though.   

(Disclaimer: the links in this blog that go back to Amazon through an affiliate program)