Friday, October 24, 2014

Sometimes It's Okay TO Look Back (An excerpt from what I wrote last year) As Our Team Approached The Region Championship

In May of 2013, I found myself sitting in the parking lot at Forsyth Central High School going into a job interview I had not foreseen coming the previous week. Upon parking my car I had a sense of peace and calmness I can’t yet explain as I walked into the front office at Central. I whispered to myself, “This is where God wants me right now.”  Everything inside this high school looked so different than “The Ridge” the name given to a modern, large, and very successful high school established in 2004 in prestigious Suwanee, GA which is known for success in academics and sports. FCHS was much older—established in the 1950s. “God loves humility and humbleness echoed in the back of my mind." There was no wall to wall cherry trophy case that read "The Standard of Excellence" filled with annual state championship trophies. There were no flat screen televisions displayed around the school playing the sport’s highlights and success along with announcements of the week. I did not really care to take a tour of the rest of the campus which is a rather large-two buildings connected across a large field that makes this 5A high school seem more like a college campus. It felt right and that was all that mattered. I was not moving out of my comfort zone because of a building. I was more interested in what went on inside of the building or in this case--campus.  I knew this was where I was called to be. This was not about what was easiest or best for me.  After the interview I felt confident this is where God wanted me to be. A few days later, I got an email followed by a job offer. After building a cross country program and learning from the standard of excellence for nearly a decade, God had called me to Forsyth Central. I had no idea why…

I recall my last luncheon at PRHS. I fought back tears through most of Dr. Tashlein’s speech. I was leaving behind a special place with a lot of cross country and teaching memories. I had poured my heart and soul into building this running program from the ground up beginning in 2005. PRHS was the longest chapter of my life—longer than my high school days, college days (even with my two consecutive degrees from University of Kentucky) and my traveling days in Spain, Mexico and Sydney, Australia. A huge chapter of my life was coming to an end. It was a chapter that molded me into a cross country coach and a teacher but more importantly where I found God’s calling and purpose for me.
Onto Central…
Attending a head coach’s meeting upon returning from a vacation at the beach was rather um..shall we say intense. There was tension in the conference room between the athletic director and the coaching staff. When you have 25 new coaches joining 20 returning coaches things were a little on edge as ideas and future plans collided. I may have had that look of buyer’s remorse. What had I gotten myself into? God, you led me here! Why? I talked to a few coaches. I asked a few questions trying to get a deeper feel for the school. “What programs are successful here at Central?”  ”The one act play and the band are good—responded one teacher.” What athletic programs are successful?” –I added.  A laugh proceeded “Welcome to Central.” 

A week later….
It was time to start summer training-my first cross country practice began at Central on a typical humid May morning in Georgia. After a very short three mile run with the team (what they called the Church Loop) it hit me…. Wow, I beat them all in except for Max Warner-a promising, upcoming sophomore. Then something else hit me--I was in for the coaching challenge of my life! I would have been the second fastest on the boy's cross country team and fastest girl. I am the second most in shape runner in this program? Talking to some of the runners I asked them about their summer practice schedule. A few replied, “We only practiced in July last year.” I looked at the summer practice schedule which had already been set before I was hired. It consisted of three practices a week. Upon taking one glance at the schedule I said, I will be available six days a week and I expect you all to be here. I took one look at that schedule and threw it away. I had to give them a chance. Intense five to six days a week of summer training began and we never looked backed. A few of my athletes still remind me of their first summer practice with me. There was more vomiting and looks of shock than I had seen in my entire coaching career in that shocking first day..
After putting on my game face, I left practice and called my mom. What have I done? Why am I here? My mom’s voice on the other end calmly reminded me—“You wanted to build success where it didn’t already exist. You felt  called to this school, remember? Stay the course like you always do. Keep the faith.” When God calls: Don’t ask why. Don’t look back. Report to duty and stay the course.

We are now a few races away from region. Central has had its most successful cross country season in 60 years the school has existed . We have two trophies to add to that trophy case and are by the grace of God ranked 12th in 5A. Several parents have told me they had been praying for a coach.  In April, I wasn’t even thinking about leaving Peachtree Ridge High School but God called me to serve. It was a friend who found this job and told me I needed to return to coaching after running over thirty full marathons in twenty-five states.
A note from a parent stated:  We are in what will be known for years as the Golden Age of FCHS XC.  
This isn’t a miracle which many refer to this cross country season as such. (The FCHS cross country team was consistently one of the five worse programs in the state as seen on  and improved slightly with the help with the middle school standout--Max Warner the year before my arrival.) This is God’s work. The ending hasn’t been written yet as we chase history for that first state appearance. Regardless of what outcome lies ahead —we have already accomplished more than I imagined in 2013.

God needs leaders in all facets of life. Cross country is life changing. I know running has changed my life. In an age where our youth have more challenges than ever before being an athlete can keep them on the correct path. God needs leaders more than ever. He needs leaders to work on the front lines in the simplest and most humble of places. Most of these roles are not found in the spotlight and are anything but glamorous Mother Teresa who was from an affluent family, served in the slums of India. He needs leaders who are service oriented rather than self oriented. I would not have been called to serve HIS purpose if this was not the case. Running teaches countless life lessons. Two cross country parents approached me to thank me again for being so committed to the team after our last race. Their son is a senior. They regaled stories of his underclassmen years where Central took seven of the last eight spots in a race we just finished. As they were thanking me for his senior year cross country experience of trophies and success, I told them what I believe…This experience will teach him to follow through in life. He is the only senior who lasted through the tough times. He will learn to get through the tough times in life, knowing that hard work and perseverance will see him through to success. This year is his reward for staying the course.

Spiritual leadership from Pastor Sweetman-there is a confidence you must have that God has called you to be a leader.  
Never stop moving. It is easier to camp out in pity and pitch a tent in the wilderness of life than to keep moving. You can get content in the wilderness but you will get bitter. Shake it off—keep moving and growing.

The seasons of life. Planting—where ideas are seeded. A period of inspiration and hope for things to come. Harvest-where those ideas and dreams begin to grow and prosper. Change-things get shaken up. Dormant- where life is still. Things may be growing but you don’t see it or the results that lie ahead. Just keep moving!

Your sovereign hand will be my guide. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Preparing For Surgery Is Like Training For A Marathon

When I discovered I had a four inch tumor (the size of an orange) living inside my body I was in shock. This meant surgery. I have never had surgery before and really thought I had escaped the C-section and labor pains most women go through to deliver a beautiful baby. I would get to deliver a tumor and experience surgery. Just great! I wanted this tumor out of my body now. It has caused low iron, fatigue and made racing 26.2 even more challenging then it already is.

I immediately asked my doctor when I should schedule this surgery. He mentioned it was slow growing and I had been living with the side effects for at least five years. He also reluctantly mentioned the three to four day hospital stay with two months of recovery.  This meant I could wait until after cross country season when I will be on winter break. The downside--I have a whole fall to prepare In the summer and fall most runners are preparing to peak for a fall marathon. I will be training this year for surgery.

Knowing I ran two marathon in one weekend in New England with the
 2nd day faster and the following week placing 3rd in Iowa almost hitting
my personal record. I know the better shape you are in the
faster you recover.
Once the initial shock passed and I Googled WEB MD to see the horrific pictures of how they are going to slice my stomach open to remove a large tumor (possibly more smaller tumors ) connected to arteries and blood vessels, I immediately started to pull myself back together. What can you control in this situation. Focus only on what you can control.  You can control your mental and spiritual state. You can gain strength from your faith. Okay, what else? You can control your fitness to a certain degree. You can train for this surgery like a marathon. Go into surgery super fit and lean. You can eat healthy. (Starts researching every healthy food that helps fibroid tumors. Goes to store to buy said food--Brazilian nuts, steel cut oatmeal, beet juice, pears, berries for the oatmeal etc.)

My focus is no longer on the surgery and those awful pictures I saw (do not google them-it's really gross and you've been warned) but on what I do going into surgery and what I will face coming out of surgery. The doctors said for this specific surgery it is usually three months of no exercising but they are estimating it will only take me two months before I can return to training. I recovered for 24 marathons in a year. Although that does not make me superior than the next person it gives me confidence in my ability to recover. Truthfully, when I was beginning to think my racing 26.2 days were in the rear view mirror, I got answers. It puts into perspective that everything I did in 2011 was with a four inch tumor--probably not as big then as it is now but enough to make my ferritin remain a 4-10 from 2010-present. I am thinking my best running days may be ahead of me sans life/iron/ferritin sucking, orange-sized tumor.

Time to focus on my "tumor surgery training."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Class of 2014 Holiday Race Superlatives of The ATL

February-  Run the Reagan Half Marathon-President's Day Weekend
Most Likely To Succeed

Ronald Reagan once said, If you are explaining, you are loosing. I will keep it short--Run The Reagan has been around for 20 years and it is not going anywhere because it is a well organized half marathon and 10k backed by tradition making it Gwinnett County's Premier Road Race.

March-Shamrock n Run 10K St. Patrick's Day Weekend
Best Personality

Irish kilts, bagpipes, and Irish dancers at Atlantic Station makes for a great race ambiance each St. Patrick's Day Weekend. It is how the Irish would host a 10K in Atlantic Station--a party with a race instead of a race with an after party.
April-Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon -Easter Weekend
Best Looking

The Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon is a beautiful 13.1 mile run along a river with a canopy of trees landscaping the course. As it is Easter weekend if you have some energy left over you can search for more free race entries into Dirty Spokes events at the Easter egg hunt following the race.

July-Peachtree Road Race 10K--Independence Day
Most Popular

The Peachtree Road Race is the largest race in America and the largest 10k in the world. It is what everyone and their mother will be doing come the 4th of July in Atlanta.

October- Party on The Pavement 5K-Halloween weekend
Class Partiers

Hayrides. Halloween costumes. Apple Cider Tasting. DJs. Photo Booths. Party on the Pavement knows how to throw...well--a party!

November Atlanta Half Marathon-Thanksgiving Day
Best All Around

This is an Atlanta Track Club race that has it all-great course, organization, competition, great half marathon medals. The Atlanta Half Marathon is consistently voted one of the best half marathons in the country!  It has tradition and the best post race dinner of any half marathon out there--Thanksgiving Dinner after you earn your turkey.

December Atlanta Christmas 5K-The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Most Outgoing

Jolly Old St. Nicholas would be proud of the Atlanta Christmas 5k. Imagine over a thousand runners taking over Atlanta in Santa Hats. Nothing says Merry Christmas like 1,500 outgoing runners demonstrating their Christmas cheer in Santa hats running 3.1 miles through the Virginia Highlands.

2011 Superlatives
2012 Superlatives
2013 Superlatives

Monday, April 21, 2014

Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon

The Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon

When I began coaching at Central almost a year ago I was introduced to Fowler Park also known as The Greenway in Forsyth County. I fell in love with Cumming, Georgia and this hidden running Meca 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta. To say I was excited about the endless training and coaching possibilities on The Greenway in Fowler Park would be an understatement.

There are already so many coaching memories of team time trials, mile repeats, hill repeats and finally tapering for the boy's first state appearance in cross country school history at this Greenway in Folwer Park; it seems impossible I was discovering this route only a year ago. When I saw Dirty Spokes Productions was putting on a new half marathon in "my office" where I coach--it was an easy decision,  "Register for this half marathon!" Not only is it a rather fast course with only a few inclines going over small bridges over the river which flows adjacent to the running path but I also know every turn and tangent of this course. It is no surprise (with the scenery and lack of consistent hills typical in Atlanta) this half marathon capped early at 500 runners.

It was another rainy spring morning after coaching two long days in the region meet this past week. It was a successful week with two new school records this week (3200 and 800) and qualifying for sectionals in the 3200 and 1600  for the first time in school history at Central but I was too tired to think about my own serious racing goal for this spring half marathon. My only goal was to drag myself out of bed and get to the starting line instead of sleeping through a cozy and rainy morning. Once the race began I could let my legs tell me what pace they could tolerate today over 13.1 miles through Fowler Park.

Pinning on the bib with a few seconds to spare
at the start of the Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon
I managed to talk myself into racing just in enough time to pin on the race bib seconds before the start. I didn't have time for nerves or for thinking through race strategy. The first few miles I tried to pace an eight minute mile pace--off of feel as I was not wearing a watch. The course takes runners three miles to a turn around for a total of six miles on this section of the course. The race director was on his bike directing the lead male runner. As I was nearing the turn around he yelled out to the pack of lead ladies going in the opposite direction towards the turn around point calling out-- "seven, eight, nine and ten!"   We were all packed closely together and there were a few women close behind us. When I got word of this top ten news my goals formed as the race unfolded. New goal: top ten overall female which should be good enough for my competitive age group to place for the third time in a half marathon in my division in the last three months.
Fowler Park in Cumming, Georgia
45 minutes northeast of Atlanta.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nothing Says Spring Break Like Two Half Marathons & A 10K PR

Spring Break Races: Run The River 10K, Knoxville Half Marathon, and Chik-fil-A Half Marathon in Athens, Georgia

Spring Break 2014: Personal record in the 10k, running a half marathon, relaxing at the beach and more racing!

Run The River 10K
When runners in Atlanta refer to "running the river" it is in reference to the trails along the famous Chattahoochee River in Roswell (thirty minutes northeast of Atlanta) also locally known as The Hooch. Run The River 10k is a beautiful spring run along the Chattahoochee River. The course is an out and back with the exception of miles three and four which takes a tour off the main road adjacent to the scenic river views onto a dirt side road. This year the dirt road section of the course slowed runners down as it had been raining all morning and was rather muddy. The Run The River 10k course has a few short hills but is mostly flat. As I ran the race I was trying to push myself but not really too focused on splits or pace. There was a course marshal at each mile marker calling out the official time but I was uncertain of my pace until I reached the sharp left turn off the main road which takes us to the final 100 meters into the finish shoot. As I approached the final sharp left turn a man yelled at me to kick to the finish saying,  You can be the last finisher today under 50 minutes. I finished with a PR with a time of 49.52! I missed my age group award coming in 4/ 53 in my age group and 14th overall female with 400 runners running the 10K on a day I really did not want to race. When I woke up to hearing the morning spring rain on my window on the the first day of my spring vacation I almost opted to sleep in for once. However, I got dressed and laced up my running shoes while mostly still asleep for a chance at a new 10K PR. I had been inspired by Central's distance track team who all came in with PRs last Thursday before leaving for their prospective spring vacations. Run The River was a great way to kick off my own spring break.  The race inspired me to drive to Knoxville to register for their highly rated marathon on taking place on Sunday. 

Hanging out in Knoxville Saturday Night For The Knoxville Half Marathon
Knoxville Half Marathon
What a race! This course offers both gorgeous scenery from the upscale Knoxville neighborhoods to views of the river and city. Knoxville is not only scenic but fun. The course has a well earned hilly reputation. It is the hardest first half of a marathon I have ran. I would love to try the full 26.2 miles when I am rested and not recovering from a 10k PR. The course spectators and volunteers are the most enthusiastic I have seen outside of racing the marathon majors. The first cheering section had a half mile of signs asking what does the (insert any animal you can possibly think of) say with the fox cheering section at the end of the street singing What Does The Fox Say? The fox on this course also says...Run! The next mile takes you through an upscale neighborhood with the most clever signs I have seen in any race making me laugh out loud a few times. I was not alone-everyone was commenting and laughing on the signs even while running uphill. Each sign was original and not the usual signs you see at every single race these days like Why do all the good ones run away? I might also add they are PG 13 at best. One of my favorite 800 runners to follow on twitter is epic blogger Phoebe Wright who hails from Tennessee. The signs made me wonder if the entire city has her same sense of humor.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Georgia Marathon-It's A College Campus Tour

This was my 3rd Georgia Marathon after racing the course the inaugural year and again in 2012. The Georgia Marathon most assuredly does not get easier just because one knows the course. It does however get better each year I run it. One of improvements: they offered packet pickup the morning of the race for $30. This year I opted to pay a little extra to get my bib the morning of the race in Centennial Olympic Park. I was coaching at a track meet all day on Saturday and could not make it to the expo in time for packet pickup. After another successful track meet with the girls coming in second out of five teams and the boys placing third but dominating the distance events it was time to enjoy my personal running journey as I would attempt marathon 67.  I foresee more races giving runners an option to skip the expo hassel by giving runners the opportunity to pickup their racing bibs on race morning for a small fee--people are busy these days!

I like to think of the Georgia Marathon course as a hilly college campus tour as it runs through Georgia State, Agnes Scott University, Emory University and Georgia Tech. Although it does not have the college students on the course as say Boston College or Wesley does at the Boston Marathon; it is a scenic tour of the campuses in Atlanta. Besides the campuses it also travels by the infamous house in Driving Mrs. Daisy!  This course is growing on me each year I run it.

Just before I reached Decator I heard someone say Coach Hays. I turned around to see Niall's mother running alongside me. Niall was a former runner for Peachtree Ridge who went on to run at Georgia Tech and is now working in Asia.  As his younger brother is now running at Peachtree Ridge I got to talk track and field for a few miles and toss around the question everyone ask each year, Will Coach Clanton retire this year? For the record, I am right where I want to be in regards to my coaching career but there is a certain nostalgia I feel when I talk about Peachtree Ridge cross country and track. It is like looking back on your college days of being a student or athlete--you loved it but in the end you just knew you were ready to move on to the next chapter in your life.
My 67th lifetime marathon and think this is one of the toughest road races in America

Speaking of moving on...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Shamrock n Run 10K

10th Running of the Shamrock n Run 10K at Atlantic Station

The 10th running of the Shamrock n Run 5k  & 10K 
What a week. My life seems to revolve around this sport. Monday night the coaches had our annual region meeting. Although productive I did not return home until 9pm. Wednesday was our first track meet of the season. Central boys won a meet for the first time since 2009! Getting home at 9:30 after going in at 7am had made for a productive but exhausting week. The weekend was finally here-for those who don't coach. The bus left at 7:20 Saturday from the school where the team traveled to Pickens County to compete against five teams at the Sharptop Invitational. Both our girls and boys won making it a Central sweep ending a six year loosing streak for the girls. What a week!  Now Sunday was here and although the time changed today resulting in less sleep I could still sleep in this morning, right? Nope. I woke up at 5:30 to lace up for the 10th running of the Shamrock-N- Run 10K in Atlantic Station. After that busy week (besides teaching and coaching I had one region coach's meeting and 2 track meets) my expectations were low. How low?  I didn't even wear a watch. Racing is how I unwind after a busy week of teaching and coaching. Today I could live with "whatever the official clock said" as long as I knew I gave it my best while not backing down from the challenge of the 6 hills on this double loop course beginning and ending at Atlantic Station. 
Over 2,000 runners laced up for the 5K & 10K this year.
The Shamrock n Run is a Peachtree qualifier!
After picking up my bib I toed the line with thousands of runners dressed in Irish green and a few Irish kilts sprinkled in the crowd. It was a festive race with bagpipes and Irish dancers. The race took off in the heart of downtown with scenic views of the Atlanta skyline. I felt great running the first and easiest mile as I was unsure how my legs were working after such a busy week. The hills slowed me down so much so I didn't think a PR was even in the ballpark.
 If the Peachtree Road Race is a four (with one being easy and ten being challenging) this course would be an eight. The hills were both steep and long. The 10k has an out and back section-uphill (which the 5K got to bypass) on the second loop of the course. Come close to a 10k PR?  Today? No way, right? Not on this course after this week. 

At mile five and a half I had the final hill behind me which meant it was time to kick. "Legs, I know you are tired but MOVE!"

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thrill In The Hills Trail Marathon

Thrill In The Hills Trail Marathon

Thrill In The Hills Marathon would be my third marathon of 2014 and second marathon in February followed by a double half marathon weekend prior to this challenging trail course. My goal for this weekend was to place in my age group and close strong the last 10K reminiscent of how I raced in 2011.  The marathon course takes runners nearly a mile on the road in Fort Yargo State Park to space out the runners before hitting the trails around the lake. The hills reminded me of the trails and hills for mountain biking-short, continuous and constant bumps on these trails. It was not as technical as Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon but this course does make you work. The full marathon is a double loop course. The first loop made me wish I had opted for the half marathon.

I was being challenged physically and mentally on this trail. The inside of my shins were sore from last weekends half marathon double. 
As I was working, maneuvering and balancing my legs on the trails it continued to hurt so much so I was getting a lot of "Are you okay?" I pressed ahead hoping the pain would subdue. At 13.1 miles the half marathon turns into the finish and we (those who signed up for double the punishment) headed back to the trails for round two of Thrill In The Hills. After all, "it's the THRILL of the fight."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Double: Run The Reagan and Locomotive Half Marathon Weekend

1st and 2nd in our age group!
Run The Reagan Half Marathon and 5K are Gwinnett County's premier road races. Both races bring in around 3,500 runners annually. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Run The Reagan. Having lived and coached cross country and track in Gwinnett County-- (population 1 million which is located 30 minutes Northeast of Atlanta and also the home to several All American and professional runners including recent stars Collins Hill High School's Amanda Winslow, Norcross High School's Girma Mecheso, Peachtree Ridge High School's Josh Brickell and the winner who donated his prize money to charity this year was from the powerhouse distance running program Brookwood High School) for nine years I was well aware of this race and the winners each year as the race gets a lot of local publicity with front page features in the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Locomotive Half Marathon is an even larger race which also has a 5k the same morning in Kennesaw, Georgia. All month I had been thinking about running the Gainesville Marathon in Florida but upon an impromptu run to Big Peach in Alpharetta during an ice storm I decided that two halves make a whole and I could get more winter quality base training out of two half marathons rather than running one full marathon at a slower pace. Besides each race was only thirty minutes from my house and a weekend at home sounded very appealing.

Run The Reagan Half Marathon

8th overall/1st in my age group
My first goal was a 1:49 for the Run The Reagan Half Marathon. I thought 1:49 was a realistic pace even with the hills on the course. However, add in the 25 mph winds and I was in for a whole new challenge with the 25 mph headwinds and hills combo package. The course is an out and back on the Reagan Parkway which takes place each President's Day weekend. The first half of the course has a net elevation loss although it is rolling hills out and back. This is also the section of the course which had the headwind this year. A couple of times the wind gust actually moved me to the point I almost tripped. The second section of the course has a rather large elevation gain but was aided with the help of a tailwind. There are mile markers and clocks at each mile of the course and half of those mile markers have DJs and cheering sections to push you on to the next mile.The finish which is also the location of the start has a great post race atmosphere with music, food, vendors, The Big Peach and an award's ceremony. I got the time I wanted to get for day one of the double-1:49.22  (3:39 marathon pace) which was good enough in windy conditions and on a hilly, challenging course for 8th overall and 1st place in my age group! Now on to my second half marathon for the weekend...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Inaugural Hilton Head Marathon

Hilton Head Island Marathon #65
Memorial Day Weekend on the island
When my sister and I were in Hilton Head last Memorial Day I commented to my sister how there should be a full marathon on the  island. The island itself is not only shaped like a running shoe (how appropriate)  but there is mile upon mile of running and biking trails around the island canopied in Spanish moss. We have had an unusual winter here in Atlanta and the idea of getting in my weekly long run on an island was enough for me to drive the five and a half hours (six with Atlanta traffic) after teaching and coaching on Friday which would make my arrival time past 11 pm. When I woke up the next morning, I was on an island which made me forget I was really exhausted--it was time to run 26.2 miles in paradise.

The Course: 
These running trails go around the entire island
The course begins in Jarvis Creek Park. Most of this course runs along the shoulder of Marshland Road and Cross Island Parkway with a few sections on the Spanish Wells bike path. The course is basically a double loop course and runs alongside the half marathon runners for nearly eleven miles.
The most scenic and challenging section of the course takes runners over Cross Island Bridge twice round trip which translates into 4 significant hills but the view is worth the climb each time. The other section of the course which standouts among a course framed with palm trees, harbor island views atop bridges and scenic bike paths canopied in Spanish moss is the last mile of the course in Jarvis Creek Park.
The last mile is a circle around the lake in Jarvis Creek Park coming into the finish.