Traveling on a Teacher’s Salary

So far in this blog’s short history, I have talked a lot about both traveling and personal finance. most of those posts have focused on the how. This post focuses on the why.

Why do I choose to spend a comparatively high percentage of my income on travel and everything that goes along with it? Why does the prospect of actually being in a place that holds historical significance fill me with nearly inexpressible joy and wonder?

As a child I temporarily satisfied my thirst for exploration with books. I read books from diverse settings in both time and place. While I read those books and often much after I finished those books, I lived in my imagination, personally taking the place of a beloved character in the events the author did not yet describe in the book.

As I moved into adulthood, simply imagining these places was no longer quite enough. As a newly minted eighteen year old, my traveling adventures began with a high school graduation trip, my first trip north of the Mason Dixon line, to New York City.

In stunned awe I took in the sights and sounds of the city, of things I had seen on Friends and in “You’ve Got Mail.” Places like Central Park and Times Square stunned me with their diverse beauty. I stood in silent reverence on the site of the former Twin Towers and signed my name to a remembrance wall for those who had perished merely twenty-one months before. I craned my neck to see Lady Liberty’s torch. I called my grandpa in giddy glee from Ellis Island to ask when his mother immigrated only to find out that she actually came through Boston. I ate lunch where Harry met Sally and slowly melted in the bleachers of old Yankee Stadium to chants of “1918” as the Yankees faced the Red Sox.

Many vivid memories remain from that trip. A lifelong passion found expression. For the next several years as I progressed in my education my father subsidized my travel. First came our trip to Washington, DC, a fitting trip for a recent Bachelor’s in History graduate. I reveled in the history that abounds in our nation’s capital from the Smithsonian Museums to Mount Vernon and Monticello. Two years later, Dad and I took off on a graduation road trip in which we visited twenty-five states in fourteen days. That trip included sites like Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Jackson Square in New Orleans, the Grassy Knoll, the 6th Floor Museum in Dealy Plaza, the Oklahoma City Memorial, Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks, the Ingalls’ Homestead in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.

I could spend pages describing all of the places that God has given me the privilege of visiting. None of those descriptions would even approach being able to describe the thrill I felt, for example, when my tour bus first crested a hill and I glimpsed the iconic pillars of Stonehenge. These few paragraphs, however, more than prove my point.

One of my favorite financial bloggers, Frugalwoods, best describes how I have chosen to finance my passion. If your main goal is to travel the world, pause before you buy that diet Dr. Pepper and ask yourself whether you would rather spend that money on the drink or on traveling the world that God has created. (Obviously, I rephrased her point with examples more applicable to myself.) This question and my answers to that question have helped fund further adventures and have helped me better explain what drives how I spend my money.

I started thinking about this post during a recent department meeting. In that meeting one of the items on the agenda was determining the date on which we would gather in the summer for planning, an extra day for which we would be compensated by Title I funds. After I disclosed that I would be on a plane headed to London the day following the last teacher work day, everyone started considering the day before I left as the primary option. While that would be convenient, we would not get paid for that day because it was a regular contract day. I will also add that my disclosure of my London trip was met by the usual casually jealous comments. Those comments, which i hear all the time, quickly paled in comparison to a specific comment from another coworker. I asked if we could consider a non-contract day so that we could be paid like those from other departments will be. She told met hat I would not notice that $150 in my paycheck, not after all the taxes were taken out. It really wasn’t that much.

Many things went through my head then and also permeated discussions of that comment, which she made several times throughout the remainder of that meeting. Most of those thoughts initially centered on speculation that privilege on her part led to the comment. While that certainly factored in, I believe that there also may be a cultural norm ascribing privilege to all those who are able to travel, especially overseas. Many times the other participants in conversations about my travel wish that they had enough money for such adventures or wonder how I can afford so much travel on a teacher’s salary. Perhaps that factored into my coworker’s inaccurate statement. Perhaps she assumed that because I could afford a European vacation, I would not notice the extra $150 in my paycheck.

On the contrary, I can afford a European vacation because I pay attention to every penny in my paycheck. I have never earned a large salary in my entire working career. According to my Social Security records (which you can access by setting up a free account on their website), I have only twice earned above thirty thousand dollars in a calendar year and even then just barely. Those numbers do not scream privilege yet God has blessed me with no debt, a head for numbers and a steady, sufficient income.

Over the years I have made travel a priority. I am also debt adverse. Those two main motivations have helped me travel far more than many might think possible. Sometimes that meant postponing the trip because I had not yet saved a sufficient amount. Sometimes that meant choosing a less expensive attraction like the Chicago Symphony rather than Hamilton with Wayne Brady playing Aaron Burr. All the time it means planning and budgeting well. For example, that London trip? Both Mom and I contributed to saving for it. The final budget came out to $5100 for two people. So far I have spent $4100 of that budget with the only things left to purchase being transportation (like the Underground and one or two Uber rides), food, and a few small souvenirs. We will likely end up spending less than $5,000 for two people to travel to England and Scotland for a total of eleven days including travel time.

That is how I can afford to travel on a teacher’s salary. I prioritize my spending by reminding myself about my ultimate goal. I prioritize how I spend my time by planning ahead of time, both the trip and my budget. I look for ways to maximize experience while minimizing the expense. The next time you start to say that you can’t do something and give in to jealousy of someone who can, redirect that effort into finding what truly brings you joy and figuring out how, not if, you’ll get there.

Freedom Flyer 2 Miler 2017 – Race Recap

Race #128
2 Miler #1
2017 Race #12
2017 2 Miler #1
Freedom Flyer 2 Miler #1

When I saw that the Greenville Track Club was putting on a new holiday race in a distance that I have never raced before, I signed up immediately. (Like I have mentioned before, I have an addiction to running all the races.)

One of these days I’m going to actually train for a shorter race, make it my A race. Those half and full marathons though…

Going into this race having never raced this distance before and not having trained for short distance speed, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. After checking my stats on the McMillan Pace calculator, I came up with a couple goals. My main goal would be finishing in 14:16, a 7:08 pace. In reality though, that goal translated into sub 14 minutes. My reach goal was 12:57, a 6:28 pace. In reality, I have never had a race mile with that fast of a split. If I trained specifically for this race though, I could have probably achieved that goal.

We arrived with plenty of time to get in a little warm up and watch the unfortunately painful Memorial Day tribute put on by the race director. (Technical difficulties obscured the full impact of the tribute.) Things appeared a little haphazard but I knew that there would not be that many people out today having looked at the number of participants signed up online.

Freedom Flyer 2 Miler 2017
Modeling the race singlets

With about 10 minutes to go, we lined up and prepared to start. I had actually expected to go the other direction but clearly I misread the course map. All I knew is that the first mile held significant uphill which when we turned around, enabled us to “fly,” thus the name of the race.

At 8:28 we were off. Immediately I knew that racing a 2 miler is a whole different ball game than any other race that I have run. With a race this short, knowing the course like the back of your hand would be the way to truly excel. I did not have that depth of knowledge.

I took off in a near sprint and soon felt the effects. I quickly tried to settle in to a better pace, one that would enable me to get up the incline in good enough shape to sprint the second mile.

That uphill took a lot out of me. It is crazy hard to continue a sprint while on that sort of incline. It is not impossible though, just something that I would need to train for specifically.

Finally we reached the top of the hill and the end of the first mile, the halfway point

Mile 1: 7:05

Then came the downhill. My legs did not want to increase the turnover. I glanced down at my Garmin several times expecting a much faster average pace than what I saw.

Looking back, I am almost 100% certain that I could have pushed the pace a whole lot more than I did. I held back out of subconscious fear of sprinting too soon and then completely running out of steam at the end. In a race as short as this, there really is no space to hold back like I did. Lesson learned for sure.

Then, just in time, the finish line approached. Only here did I actually start to push as hard as I should have been for at least the previous half mile.

Mile 2: 6:46
Overall: 13:53

I finished dripping in sweat. The weather was pretty much ridiculous. I am thrilled that I pretty much crushed my original goal of 14:16. 23 seconds is not much in some races but in a 2 miler, it’s enormous. I know though that I could have gone faster. I think the main thing that would help me get faster for shorter distances would be to limit my longer distance races. Since that’s never going to happen, I’ll just have to make do for now.

Freedom Flyer 2 Miler 2017
Just a couple sweaty sprinters

Mom finished just over a minute behind me yet in front of all the other forty and overs. She is a fantastic runner!

Freedom Flyer 2 Miler 2017
Award winners!

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
I still do not understand why Greenville Track Club permits registration for many of their races on two separate platforms. I would think that a scenario like that could cause some logistical issues. Other than that everything else about registration and packet pick up on race morning went smoothly.

Race Shirt
GTC offered two options of shirts for this race, a regular shirt and a singlet. Both Mom and I chose the singlet. I really like that option because the quality of shirts that the GTC orders for its races is better suited for the singlets than actual race shirts. I will probably use this as a workout shirt in the future.

Prerace/morning (evening) amenities
Anything downtown is always nice. For the GTC’s sake, I hope that more people register next year, otherwise, I do not see how they would be able to afford a downtown venue. The amenities were a bit lacking. If you’re going to have a pre-race show that involves technology of some sort, a soundcheck or other sort of practice helps to work out the kinks.

The course itself is challenging but fun. This could become a favorite of mine should the GTC continue this race in the future, which I sincerely hope that they do. It is a challenging first mile which sets you up well for a fast mile if you race well.

Course Support
Nothing was evident on the course although it was well marked and the streets were well-manned with police officers blocking traffic.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
Finishing on Main Street is always a scenic finish. I took the water but nothing else although some fruit and other snacks were provided.

There was a photographer taking pictures pre-race and of the race winners. I do not know if she was taking pictures of racers as they finished. I will update this as I find out more.

Palmetto Timing did a stand out job, as always.

I would definitely recommend this race. I will admit that I was disappointed in the fairly low turnout, barely 200 people. I think this could be a stand out race. GTC actually did a fairly good job with the amenities and everything else; I think something is missing in their marketing plan though. On a holiday like this, a short race should have done well and had a lot higher rate of participation. I hope that someone with some marketing skill comes on board with the GTC and this race so that it continues. I think it could be quite successful.

Closing the Cycle – Composting

A few weeks ago while at the gym, I happened to catch a small portion of a morning news clip. That clip talked about a new statewide initiative to reduce food waste. Most of the details escape me save one. Each year, on average, South Carolinians throw out 640,000 pounds of food.

One person has difficulty comprehending the amount described by such a large number. The mind gets blown when one thinks about the fact that that number describes one state out of fifty in one country out of 196.

I have long been incredibly driven to make good use out of every piece of food I am given to eat. Part of that started when I was young. I remember one time at my grandparents’ house I had finished a bowl of cereal, all save the leftover milk. As I got up to dump out the milk and rinse my bowl, my grandpa asked me where I thought I was going. He made me sit back down and drink that milk before I could leave the table. Nothing went to waste in that house, a byproduct of growing up in the Depression. If a spoonful of vegetables remained in a serving dish at the end of a meal, someone transferred it to a smaller dish to put in the fridge. When we headed to the family beach vacations, any leftovers were bagged up and brought along. Today, even the leavings on the plates are put to use as expected treats for my aunt’s two dogs.

Personally, I have always been reluctant to throw out anything that I have spent time and/or money on. I hate the idea of needless waste, especially when I know that there are many others less fortunate than me. My problem stems directly from my tendency towards procrastination and also a little bit overambitious. I tend to waste food most often in one of the following two scenarios. Either I keep putting off using my perishables or preserving them or I see an interesting product at Costco and create grand plans on how I will use it before expiration. Either way, I end up wasting a lot more food than I am comfortable with.

How does this all tie in with composting? Well, it goes back to that original number in this post, 640,000 pounds of food thrown away. While the number is staggering for sure, it does not surprise me. I witness the food waste first hand at work.

Greenville County Schools offers free breakfast to every student. This is a fantastic initiative. It does, however, lead to additional waste. Many students grab the bags of free food for a single item and then after consuming said item would throw the remainder away. It pained me to see perfectly good apples or unopened cartons of milk and juice head into the trash. A few months ago I started encouraging the students to place any unwanted, unopened items on the corner of my desk. Any other student was then welcome to come take an item. Now a healthy exchange market has developed in my room. It’s rare to have anything left on the corner of my desk after breakfast in the classroom concludes.

My awareness expanded to the lunchroom and the federally mandated fruit portion. I wholeheartedly support the goal of increasing the nutritional quality of students’ diets. It is a long road to haul, however. Change like this takes time which unfortunately leads to hundreds of apples, oranges and other fruit tossed in the garbage. When students have additional money to buy the available sugary “fruit” drinks, the mandatory milks sit unopened or are the tools for ad hoc lunchroom experiments. The amount of fruit left over when students receive an ice cream reward after a good day of testing testifies to the enviable power that sugar holds.

When we are able to, another teacher and I collect the unopened milk cartons, uneaten and un-mutilated (a lot of our fruit suffer fatal straw or fork puncture wounds) fruit. After the first few times, students began asking if they could have various items in the bag as I passed by their table. If I have it, I always give the item to them. Many days this results in only a few items remaining. Those items are consumed as well. Students are welcome to come by my room before or after school. If any remain after this, one of the teachers takes the fruit out to leave for the deer.

Now, after that explanation of the background, I finally come to the specifics of composting. I have considered composting before but never managed to get past the initial hurdle of setting up the compost pile or bin. To say that I am not the best gardener would be a euphemism extraordinaire. My mother and stepfather, however, love plants, are growing a vegetable garden and have started a compost pile. I kept thinking about saving my food waste to add to their pile; eventually that thought got pushed aside by others until I saw that number.

I could not stop thinking about that number and steps that I could take to do my part to decrease it. I started thinking about compost once again and realized that I could collect the unfortunate two-bite apples thrown away in my room from the leftovers. Instead of throwing these apples into the trash can, I now have a separate bag for kids to toss them into so that the waste could be composted.

Many of them started asking why I was doing that so I took the opportunity to show a short video about composting. (That is one upside to completing state testing first.) I watched this video with each class and even got to have an excellent discussion on the why behind so much waste with one of my classes. By the end of the day I had also purchased a 1.3 gallon bin to place on my countertop so that I can place my food scraps and coffee grounds there and have something with which to transport them to Mom and Ellis.

While searching for videos I cam across one produced by a middle school somewhere in the US. This school had separate, student-decorated bins int he cafeteria to collect all of the waste. They had two separate bins for composting, one with worms for dairy and meat products and one without worms for all the other edible scraps. They also had a recycling bin and trash can. Beyond that, the school also had two large compost bins outside to hold the schools leftovers. The students then demonstrated the completion of the cycle where they took some of their own compost to serve as fertilizer for the greenery areas of their school. After I watched this video, I became aware again of just how much food is thrown away even when I collect the uneaten fruit and unopened milks. My dream would be to be able to start such a program at my school. I believe that this could be invaluable for these students. Such a process could help teach them to be better stewards of the resources that they have which could potentially help, among other factors, break the cycle of poverty.

Right now, the political climate at the school, district, and county level is not amenable to the changes that would be required to implement such a system. In the face of such overwhelming odds, what can be done?

It starts with me. If I compared the amount of food I am keeping from the landfill to the total disposed of each year in my state, the depressing odds would quickly disillusion. If I instead celebrate each success no matter how small, the motivation will become infectious. One person cannot change the world and would be foolish to try to do so. Thus, going forward, I will take the small steps that I can like minimizing my own food waste by judicial purchases and composting the leftovers. I will also do what I can at school like collecting and redistributing the extra fruit while explaining the reasons to any who ask.

Mountains to Main Street Half Marathon 2017 – Race Recap

Race #127
Half Marathon #38
SC Half Marathon #29
2017 Race #11
2017 Half Marathon #3
Mountains to Main Street Half Marathon #1

I had high goals for this race. After my unexpectedly good performance at the GHS Half back in February I decided to go for it at Mountains to Main since they, as I thought, were run on a similar course. I searched for a training plan, found one and dedicated myself to following the plan. My performance in all of the races I ran between GHS and today demonstrated my increased fitness and continued to raise my expectations for this race.

Then yesterday my throat started to feel sore. I felt a little draggy, nothing significant, but just enough that I knew that a PR effort would take a lot more than if I felt 100% on race day. I indulged in a Chic-fil-a shake on the way home from work yesterday and made sure to hydrate through the remainder of the night. I’m pretty sure that I started the race today as fully hydrated as I will ever be before a race.

I then decided to make a series of goals. My reach goal would be a PR, 1:38:xx. My A goal would be sub 1:43:xx, which would make this race my second fastest half marathon. If all else failed, I was sure that I would be able to pull out a sub 1:45. I think my foreshadowing has been effective enough so I’ll get into the race itself.

For the first time in a while, I headed to the race start solo, albeit with Grandpa’s help to get from my car, which I parked at University Square, to Trailblazer Park, the start of the race. Mom spent the morning running a conference at church. Dad had planned to cheer me on at the finish but Grandma had some health issues that required an overnight stay in the hospital last night so he was there with her.

Mountains to Main Street Half Marathon 2017
Solo Selfie

At packet pick up Friday, I heard a runner talking about the differences between this course and the GHS half. I realized that I hadn’t bothered to check out the course map so I took a look at that last night. I noticed the loop through Furman but did not realize that since we started at Trailblazer Park, not just beyond Gateway Park, we would also have a starting loop in Travelers Rest.

At 8:00 on the dot we were off.
Mountains to Main Street Half Marathon 2017
I’m there in the middle of the picture.

We headed out onto the street, took a left and then a left again. That’s when I realized that we would be starting out the race running part of the Swamp Rabbit 5k course backwards. This section contains significant hills. That would have been good to have been aware of before I started the race.

Through this section I checked my Garmin multiple times to make sure that I was running on pace. I kept trying to tell myself to stop checking so frequently but the temptation held strong.

As we ran this significantly hilly section, I noticed that the temps were rising as well. We were in for a hot and humid run.

It was a short-lived relief when we got onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail. One of the few “hilly” portions comes up less than a mile after we reentered the trail. Somewhere in this section I chose to switch the screens on my Garmin to the heartrate screen. Since I did not have any heartrate strap connected, this screen is blank. From then on I decided to run by effort and stop wasting energy on checking my pace.

Mile 1: 7:29
Mile 2: 8:05
Mile 3: 7:47

I felt the best on the subsequent miles before we entered the Furman campus and continued to have high hopes for my overall result even though I no longer knew what my pace was.

Then we entered the Furman campus. We headed first around the backside of the pond. When we approached the bridget at the far end I noticed that no one turned right to cross the bridge. I mentally groaned. That meant that instead of keeping the course reasonable, we were headed for what in my early running days I named the “Hill of Death” after so many of my 5k courses ran over that hill. It’s steep and feels like it is going to last forever. Since the course measured long, (I run that area so often, I am almost 100% certain that it was long) I wish that they could have cut that hill out of the mix. Combined with the heat and humidity, I am sure that that took a lot out of me.

We headed back around the front side of the pond through a section that goes right behind the dining hall. After running A Hero’s 5k, I knew that a section coming up had a handicap ramp and stairs. I think this is the result of a fairly recent remodel. However, I do not understand why this section is part of multiple race courses. After we traverse that section we have one final hill before we reenter the Swamp Rabbit Trail. My legs were screaming during that uphill.

Mile 4: 7:54
Mile 5: 7:59

I have no idea how I was able to maintain a sub 8 pace through those couple miles. That probably drained me later in the race.

When we reentered the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I realized that we had lost the rather helpful cloud cover that helped in the early portion of the race. Every inch of me was wet with sweat. My legs were not happy at all. My mind could not get over the fact that I had not even reached the halfway point yet. My effort felt even but my pace definitely started to drop.

Mile 6: 8:17
Mile 7: 8:12
Mile 8: 8:17

I reached a low point in the race after mile 8. I was hot, so hot, and ready to be done. Thus, at the next water stop I slowed to a walk and grabbed two cups of Gatorade. At that point we were near the new Swamp Rabbit Station where some people were hard at work on an impressive mural. The cups of Gatorade were nearly full so it took me a little longer to drink all of both cups but I did.

By this point, I was pretty sure that a PR was out of the picture. I had no idea what my time was. I just wanted to finish and despite feeling nearly overheated, I wanted to finish well.

As soon as I finished the Gatorade, I started running again. Ironically enough, my splits from that mile on were negative. They weren’t fast but instead of getting slower as I approached the finish, I started to get faster and approach the speed that I started the race with.

The only thing I thought about during the last portion of the race was finishing. Each time a new song started playing, I told myself to imagine how far I could get before the song finished. Slowly but surely, I approached the finish.

Then came the second to last street crossing. The two runners (one of which I knew was a fellow competitor)ahead of me took a right which absolutely baffled me. I knew the course was different from GHS but the finish was still the TD Amphitheater behind the Peace Center and a right turn made no sense. Then the cop at the intersection motioned to the right as well. I started to turn and then heard him ask me why I was turning right. I was a bit ill-tempered at the moment so I shot back, “Because you pointed in that direction!”

Thankfully there was another runner coming back the other direction who confirmed that there was no unexpected turn. He hypothesized that the initial runner who made the turn was a non-racer. I feel really bad for the one runner that I know was a fellow competitor who went further down the wrong path than I did.

The finish line drew closer but not fast enough. We headed under the bridge. As I emerged from under the bridge, all that I could see were barriers across my path and some people standing around near the barriers. Not a single volunteer said anything about making a near u-turn to head back onto the street before taking a right and heading to the finish line. Only the fact that I ran GHS helped me remember what we were supposed to do.

I had a little left in the tank so I poured on as much speed as I could in the final meters. I heard the announcer say that we were approaching 1:47 on the clock. Even though I kept up my speed until the end, my heart sank. This time was no where near what I expected.

Mile 9: 8:40
Mile 10: 8:33
Mile 11: 8:26
Mile 12: 8:28
Mile 13: 8:25
.2: 7:04
Overall Time: 1:48:01

I was extremely disappointed with my results. However, I am thankful that I took a brief nap between the race and writing the race report so that I had time to think over my performance and the contributing factors.

One of the difficulties with comparing GHS and today is that the courses really are significantly different. Take the following elevation screenshots as an example.

This is today. Notice the significant changes in elevation through the first part of the race and the extra spike just before the halfway mark?

This is GHS. It looks like there are a lot of changes early on but none of them are as significant as the ones on today’s course.

Then there’s the temperature.
Comparison 2
This is GHS. Yes, it was much warmer than I had planned on and quite humid.

Comparison 2
However, even though the humidity was 10% less than GHS, the temperature was 11 degrees warmer. That is significant.

I took some time to research the effect that heat and humidity have on running. Temperature increases in this range can add approximately 30 seconds per mile to the pace. That alone, without the changes in the course, explains why my pace was significantly slower than the plan.

I have to also factor in the fact that my body, thanks to the start of a mild cold, was not in peak shape. I also looked back at my training plan, calculated some training paces and realized I ran some of my speedwork at a slightly slower pace than I should have.

After analysis of all the contributing factors, I come to the conclusion that I ran a smart race today. By focusing on effort, I ran the race that my body was capable of running. Now I need to take what I have learned and apply that to Chicago Marathon training which will start in July.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
For the first time in a while, I picked up my own packet. Packet pick up was at Carolina Triathlon, a location that I was not familiar with near the trail and downtown. They had a nice set up out front, a lot of which I am sure was intended for the half ironman distance which will take place tomorrow. (I now really want to complete that race too.)

Race Shirt
I love the shirt and the logo on the front: “Strong. Tough. Swift. Fast. Wild. Bold.”

Prerace/morning (evening) amenities
Trailblazer Park served as the starting location. In addition to the race start, the Travelers Rest Farmer’s Market was also setting up. Everything seemed to run smoothly. Race organizers also had several portopotties on hand to supplement the two permanent toilets in the restrooms on park premises.

This course surprised me with its challenges. On a cooler day, I know that I would have been able to run it much faster. I am definitely not adverse to a challenging course.

Course Support
I did not count the number of water stops so all I remember is that they were fairly frequent, much more frequent than in most races put on by the Greenville Track Club, and stocked with both Gatorade and water. Each street crossing also was monitored by Greenville Police. The course overall was well marked and supported.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
Since I was in a bit of a sour mood due to my unexpected “poor” performance, I did not take note of much of the offerings in the post race area. I did not hang around and instead walked straight through. Someone mentioned plenty of food in the pavilion up ahead but I will be honest; I did not see it. As I perused the race’s Facebook page after arriving home, I saw a picture from the finish and realized that I must have simply looked right past the food offerings.

Race organizers mentioned that they have teamed up with a photography company to provide free hi-res photos which will be available on Monday.

The race was timed by Palmetto Timing so the results were available right away via racemine. Even despite what I considered my lackluster performance, I managed to finish second in my age group.

I definitely recommend this race.

2017 Travels – Chicago Edition – Lessons Learned

One thought that occurred to me frequently throughout that Spring Break was “this is why I am frugal. I have prioritized my spending on what brings me joy.” That’s a post for another time.

(This post was originally supposed to go up on May 2 but unfortunately something went wrong, most likely user error, and the post stayed in the draft folder.)

Each trip, no matter how many I take, teaches new lessons and reinforces old. Chicago served as fertile proving ground for the big one, the UK trip with Mom coming up in barely a month. I had to figure out what worked and what I needed to work on. Teaching has thrown my old trip planning techniques almost completely out the window. As an obsessive planner, it was difficult at times to let go of mapping out every detail. At other times, everything moved so quickly that all I could do was hang on for the ride and just wing it.

The biggest thing I learned is that planning should be strategic. It is necessary to put some work into making a plan come together. Simultaneously, the stress of jamming all the things into each day subtracted from the enjoyment of the vacation.

In the post from a few weeks ago, I talked about the specifics of my plan, the few that I had, so I will instead talk about the nebulous plans and the nonexistent plans that I went into the trip with.

The OCD planner in me shudders at the knowledge that I had not planned the following: public transportation to get around the city and to the various events, snacks to keep the runger monster at bay, food for breakfast and other meals so that we wouldn’t have to eat every meal out and how much I was prepared to spend each day.

While I did manage, barely, to stay under budget – only $10 to spare – that does not include the Uber we took to and from the symphony, to the race start and to the airport for departure. The Uber app resided on Dad’s phone, connected to his debit card. He told me not to worry about paying him back since it was connected to his card. I will likely payhim back even though that means going over budget.

The lack of a plan for food was the budget’s near downfall. I failed to plan and thus ended up eating all but two meals in a restaurant. All the food was delicious for sure. However, I could have planned better. Thankfully, Mom is not prone to eating quite as much as Dad; that will help. Specific lesson: plan and budget for meals including restaurants, snacks and meals at the airbnb.

On the flipside, sometimes the plan can get thrown out and yet result in a completely awesome experience. I had written an idea in my day planner for each day of the trip. While we got to one of the items I wrote down, it was five days later than I wrote and we happened upon it completely unintentionally. This M.O. was the best part of the trip. We found restaurnats with delicious food, the Federal Reserve, museums and numerou other amazing places along the way. If we saw something that caught our eye we went to go see it. The stress free aspect of the M.O. was the perfect respit for the break from school. Lesson learned: let go of rigidity.

Lastly, staying within budget requires daily upkeep. I didn’t do this during the trip but one time. Only on Sunday after I had already returned did I see how close to the limit I had come.

I had such an amazing time in Chicago and can see why Laura fell in love with this city. I’m a bit infatuated myself.

Covenant Race for Adoption 5k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #126
5k #46
2017 Race #10
2017 5k #3
Covenant Race for Adoption 5k #4

I had a lot of fun at this race. This course challenges me every time yet I keep coming back.

Before the race today I decided that I wanted to run hard. I knew that would not be close to a PR since I have been training for a half marathon PR rather than short speed. However, I knew that I would be able to run well, better than last year at the very least. I also kept in mind the fact that my goal race is next week and that I would be running 70 minute after the race to complete the run for the day. (I have a racing problem.)

We arrived with plenty of time before the race. I opted not to run a warm up but since I am working on becoming a smarter runner, realized that I should not attempt to go from 0 to 60 in a second. While we waited I added in some high knee sprints to warm up.

When it came time to line up I stationed myself on the very front. There is no official start line, just an indication that the last cone marks the spot for the start line. To my left was a gaggle of kids. Thankfully, I did not have another near trampling incident in this race. Mom lined up behind me; she finished strong as well!

As I started, many people surged around me. Instead of sprinting to keep up with everyone, I held as steady as I could. This first mile lends itself to an overeager expenditure of energy which can come back to haunt you in the last mile.

Although I avoided any collisions with children, a full grown man failed to check his surroundings and moved to the right, immediately in front of me, so close that my knee made contact with some part of his leg. I made some sort of surprised noise, completely taken aback. He said nothing, just kept running. The thing that I simply cannot understand about this is the fact that I run with music and no headphones. If one pays attention, one can always hear me coming.

After the small dust up, I settled into that first mile and could see four girls ahead of me. One of them took off at an impressive pace and never let up. I would be surprised if she was older than 14 years old. The other three ran strong but I could tell that I was getting close. Just before the end of the first mile I managed to pass them.

Mile 1: 6:39

That is my fastest mile in a race although I would put an asterisk by it since the downhill grade is significant. I am pleased however with how relatively easy it felt. Obviously, it did not really feel easy but it did not feel like a full out sprint for the entire mile either.

As I headed into the second mile I thought back to an article in Runner’s World that I read yesterday about racing a competitive 5k. The thing that stuck out in my mind at that point was that 5ks hurt. There was more but eloquent thinking is not my forte during a race, especially in a 5k.

Through the second mile several guys passed me but no females. I knew that the uphills were coming and wondered if I could keep up the pace. Around this time a guy pushing a stroller – mad props – passed me. We made a turn just before the halfway point in the race and I heard him say, “another downhill, yes!” I laughed and made sure to tell him that the entire second half is uphill. He said something like “bring it on!”

After that exchange I remember thinking that I was not expending full effort if I was able to easily say an entire sentence. I tried to pick up the pace a little.

A short uphill helped us finish the second mile.

Mile 2: 7:10

I hazarded a couple glances behind me to see how much distance I had put between myself and the other girls. All I could tell was that they were not really close. I did not want to lose my second place spot. Maybe I would finally be able to break my third place female rut in this race. The first place female stayed way out front from the start.

I could feel the uphills of the third mile take their toll. Unlike previous years, I did not feel like death warmed over on these hills. I didn’t feel great, just better than I have before. I wanted that second place finish and I wanted to finish well. I kept telling myself that I was a “hill killer.”

Within the last half mile it was getting truly hard. I resorted to a form of counting my steps that would take far too long to explain. I just wanted something to keep my mind occupied so that I could finally get to that finish line.

We made the final turn in the subdivision. I heard a spectator tell a runner behind me that she was doing a great job and was in third place. I did not know who this runner was but knew that another female was close on my heels. I could not let up if I wanted that second place spot.

Unfortunately, for some reason we could not continue to run on the road. We had to run on the sidewalk which I was not happy about, especially with three people close enough in front of me to prove to be an obstacle in case of a sprint including the guy pushing the stroller. If I got close to him, passing him would be next to impossible.

Then I saw her. She came up on my right.

No! I would not lose second place so close to the finish line. I started to push the pace even further.

The guy pushing the stroller saw me out of the corner of his eye and poured on the sprint as well. He appears to be just as competitive as I am. I wanted to tell him that I could care less if I passed him; I just wanted to hold on to second place.

Race for Adoption 5k 2017
(That’s her in the background.)

We turned off the sidewalk onto the road and then towards the finish. She was hot on my heels.

In the end, she had a clear path to the finish. I did not. I had to slow down just enough to get around another runner right before the line that when I looked over she was a step and a half in front of me.

Third place, again.

Mile 3: 7:26
.1: 6:17

I seem to be stuck in a rut when it comes to 5ks. With the exception of my PR back in 2014 at Red, White, and Blue Shoes, my 5ks have stayed in the 22:20 range. Seriously. Including today’s race, I have 10 5k results within the 11 seconds between 22:19 and 22:30. That is the very definition of a plateau. My problem is that I love all the distances, especially the long ones and am too ADD to narrow my focus to just the 5k. I will conquer this.

Mom finished well too!
Race for Adoption 5k 2017

Race for Adoption 5k 2017

10 Years Later

May 5, 2007. The day I graduated from college.

The realization has started to sink in that I can no longer call myself a recent college graduate, no matter how much I may feel like one.

Twenty-one year old me, months away from my twenty-second birthday, had no idea what God would bring my way in the next ten years.

I was confident and armed with a plan. I knew where my life was headed. First, I would take the next year to work as much as I could at my two, occasionally three, part time jobs with the goal of being able to pay cash for my Masters’ of Arts in Teaching. After completing that program in a year, I would land a teaching job and begin the career in which I intended to spend the rest of my working career. Somewhere along that path, I fully expected to get married and have a couple kids.

As I have mentioned before, our plans usually do not come to fruition anywhere near how we imagine that they will. I did work as much as possible that year after college but managed to make myself a miserable miser incredibly difficult to get along with. I completed the MAT program in eleven months and obtained a job for the following year, unexpectedly in Spanish and at a school other than Lakeview, the school at which I completed my student teaching. I taught for two years in what I thought would be my forever career but grew quickly to dread each work day. The day I made up my mind to resign at the end of my second year teaching, I knew for a fact that while I was passionate about education, teaching was not the career for me.

Four years out of college and everything I had planned, God had changed. While thankful for the learning experience, I started to plan again. After all, six years was still plenty of time to meet someone and have at least one kid. That part of my plan was still in tact.

This time the plan became focused on history. I would first earn a Masters’ Degree in History before applying to and getting accepted into – a PhD program, moving, becoming Dr. Wood (this was before my name change) and either teaching at a university or becoming a historiographer, writer of history. I would probably meet someone in whatever city I moved to for my PhD work.

Once again, things did not work out as I had planned. I earned a second Masters’ Degree but also, unexpectedly gained a new last name as my affinity for my Armenian heritage grew due to my intense research and study of the Genocide for my thesis paper. I also applied to four PhD programs across the country but one after the other sent polite rejections. This plan “fell apart” in less than half the time as the first one. I didn’t realize it then. I thought everything was pushed back a year. I would work while applying to four different schools. God had other plans.

That April, a week after the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line, a group of Greenville runners met to run and remember. I ended up running alongside a casual acquaintance of mine and mentioned that I was looking for a job. God used that encounter to help me find employment…in the banking industry.

Thus, I formed a new plan. I started working with numbers and found that I loved it. Immediately I crafted a plan that placed banking as my lifelong career. I researched Masters’ Degrees in Accounting or Banking and Finance. I reveled in the ability to leave all work at work and not have it come home with me every evening, weekend and vacation. I knew this was what God had in mind for me as a career. Whenever anyone asked why I wasn’t using my teaching degree, I told them that my time teaching had been tough but worth it; that time showed me, however, that teaching was not for me.

God changed that plan again. First, He took my job. I made a mistake and was let go. Then I got a new job, this time at a credit union – the contract was not picked up; I was working through a temp agency – so I found myself unemployed once again and questioning what could possibly take the place of my next “lifetime career” option.

Through a series of events that I have previously chronicled, I ended up coming full circle, back to my original life plan. Once again, I find myself in the classroom, teaching English at the school where my teaching career, as a student teacher, began eight years ago.

These past ten years have shown me the folly of “life plans,” more specifically of refusing to leg go of them. There is nothing inherently wrong with making plans. One simply runs the risk of broken fingers from a too hard grip on fallible human plans.

I never would have expected to still be single at 31 or that I would take up running to the tune of over 115 races, 9 of them marathons. I never expected to lose family, Aunt Ruth in 2012, or gain family, Ellis in 2016. The list of unexpected could continue for paragraphs.

I cannot even fathom what twists and turns lie on God’s path for me in the next ten years and beyond.

Swamp Rabbit 5k 2017 Race Recap

Race #125
5k #45
2017 Race #9
2017 5k #2
Swamp Rabbit 5k #5

I have a hard time staying away from this race despite my better judgment. When the registration cost is only $6 and one has a mild addiction to running all the races, if my schedule allows I sight up and run this race. This year was no different.

My number one problem with this race is the overwhelming number of people who fail to line up realistically according to pace. Even though the numbers were down thanks to unusually rainy and chilly weather, most of the 3500 participants are not regular runners or runners out for a competitive race.

No matter how many times the MC instructed people to line up with the sign that matched their actual mile pace, people chose to line up wherever they wanted to. I made the unfortunate mistake of following the directions and lining up at the very front of the 7-9 minute mile sign. I had a rough goal of an 8:00 minute mile or a little faster through the race as the congestion cleared. The incredible amount of congestion Mom and I had to deal with made me wish I had “fudged” a little and lined up closer to the 7 minute mile sign even though it’s been a while since I’ve run that pace for a 5k.

Swamp Rabbit 5k 2017
Our “pre-race picture”

Swamp Rabbit 5k 2017
That’s better!
(We’re under the tree to “hide” from the rain. Mom’s idea)

Swamp Rabbit 5k 2017
Let’s get this party started!

Right at 6:30 with the rain dwindling, we were off. The frustration began right away. I looked back at Mom and told her that we would need to go single file through this mile. I would try to find paths through the much slower runners and hopefully she would be able to follow.

As an example of some people who chose the wrong place to line up, the gentlemen and two girls beside us at the start settled into a much slower pace than Mom and I planned to run. I heard him tell the girls that this was a good pace to run. I glanced down at my watch which told me that their “good pace” was 10:30 yet they were lined up at the front of the 7-9 minute section.

I will forever not understand why people simply do not line up where they are instructed to line up.

As I kept running, small children kept weaving in and out ahead of us. At one point a boy no more than 4 or 5 years old darted from my right and crossed in front of me, so close that I nearly trampled him. Then a couple hundred meters later I told Mom to move to the right so we could pass a mom and her daughter. Right when I said that the girl darted right into that space where we headed. I passed her but she literally bumped into Mom. It was almost as if she wanted to try to keep us from passing her.

That first mile passed before I could even tell that we had been running for any length of time.

Mile 1: 8:24 – We had to work way too hard for that time.

The next mile holds the most significant hills of the course. I remember the first couple times that I ran this race. Each time I dreaded these hills distinctly feeling like they would never end and feeling completely wiped out once I got to the top.

This year, both Mom and I noticed the hill, of course, but traversed it with relative ease. All of our hard work has most definitely paid off.

The congestion continued to be a problem. Only for a short time during this mile were Mom and I able to run side by side which says quite a lot on a race that at this point uses an entire two lane backroad. I wanted to increase the pace but kept finding myself boxed in time after time.

I do not remember the congestion being this bad in the past.

Mile 2:

Just after the mile 2 marker we made the turn into Trailblazer Park, through a water stop and then made a hard left onto the sidewalk, then the pavement and then back onto the road. I have no idea why they do not let us continue straight on the road beside the park before turning right onto the road that parallels the trail. Perhaps they want to show off the park? Whatever the reason, that sharp left onto the sidewalk is tricky even without fifty other people making the turn at the same time. Okay, fifty might be an exaggeration but only a slight one. For a race this size, a turn that small is way too small.

Shortly after we turn onto the road parallel to the trail we make a left and then another hard left onto the trail. I love the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It’s wider than a sidewalk but probably too small for a race like this. Mom and I ended up running this entire section single file. In fact, the congestion was so thick through this section that it would have been risky for me to even turn around and check to see how far she was behind me.

I kept trying to push but continued to find myself boxed in. At one point a lady to my right saw me trying to move forward and indicated a very small opening to my right just in front of her. I thanked her profusely but it was still tight to move to the right and get through the gap all while running quickly.

As I started to put on the sprint, I could feel the effort a little but, thanks to the congestion, I had plenty left in the tank.

Mile 3: 7:36
.1 6:05
Final Time: 24:39

Even with all my frustration, I will likely be back next year. Hopefully they will actually come up with some solutions to try out for the start/congestion issues.

Now for the race review…

Registration and Packet Pick Up
The packet pick up tent had computers set up so that you could look up your bib number in case you had forgotten it or not looked it up ahead of time. I appreciated the touch.

Race Shirt
Just like the shirt from two years ago, this year’s shirt has an excellent fit and is super soft.

Prerace/morning (evening) amenities
Plenty of tents for the post-race festival were already set up. The race organizer also provided plenty of portopotties. Some of the pre-race amenities were curtailed by the chilly temperatures and the rain.

The course itself is fantastic, challenging, but fantastic. I really do enjoy it.

Course Support
There were two water stops, in a 5k. One of those water stops was less than .2 from the finish line. Really? I definitely do not see the point of that water stop even for the hordes of much slower runners. The turns were all well marked. The set up around mile 2 by Greenville Track Club about their new race, a 2 miler on Memorial Day which I’m running, was pretty cool

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
GHS always has a well stocked finish line area. The parking lot behind Travelers Rest Family Medicine served as the immediate post race area. Unfortunately they chose to provide red delicious apples which are my least favorite apple. Back at Gateway Park was a really neat set up of hot dogs and chicken patties along with chips as well as a band playing. I think that the chilly weather kept a lot of people from heading back that way.

Pace Magazine took pictures and did a fairly good job for the number of people running.

The MC announced that there would be a scoreboard provided by Setup Events in Gateway Park so that one could look up your results when you finished. However, when I was in that area I did not see that board. When I got around to looking up the results they had been posted and were easy to find.