We walked out the door a few minutes later than I would have liked. I knew I would still have time at the start, but at that moment I was feeling the nerves and wanted to get moving. Beth walked me to the shuttle, where I boarded up with fifty other runners to be taken up to Balboa Park.

Waiting in the crowd, I was expecting more nerves. As I slowly shuffled towards the start line in my corral I was expecting fear, anxiety and self doubt. I envisioned having to tell myself over and over that I could do it and not to give into the fear. There was none of that. There was… Nothing. Only determination.

The closer I got to the start line the calmer I felt. I emptied my head of all thought and just focused on the present. Everyone around me was texting, or taking selfies or facetwittering, and having made the decision to leave my phone behind, I enjoyed these moments of being unplugged from the world and just listened to the music and the MC for the event. By the time I found my corral, she was about nine ahead. Several minutes later, she launched the corral in front mine and I put one earbud in my ear. Then the count started, and at five I put the other one in. At one, I pressed play.

Nice job iPod. I seriously could not have picked a better song.

I started my watch as I stepped over the line and got to work. I made an effort to stay slow at first. I picked a few other runners to pace behind, but eventually broke away. The first thing of note was working the water stations. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but it quickly became clear that I had made the right choice in leaving my hydration belt behind. It’s true that maneuvering through the water stations can be tricky and I found that actually drinking from a cup while running is even trickier. The first one I damned near drowned myself, and after that decided, screw the time, I was going to walk through the stops when I needed them. Which, by the way, turned out to be just about all of them. I had considered skipping one or two, but once I got a routine down, there was no reason not to grab a quick drink along the way.

The thing I was totally not expecting was the elevation change. Hills, man. Steep, gnarly hills. All my running here has been down by the water, and while I was aware that San Diego had hills, I wasn’t really expecting to run them. As it turns out, I was quite wrong. I saw the first couple coming, and quickly came up with a plan: take advantage of the downhills and go easy getting up the other side. A couple of the downhills were so steep that I just had to focus on keeping my balance rather than going fast. A small price to pay for not toppling my fellow runners.

I settled into a comfortable pace and before I knew it, four miles had gone by and I came up on mile five. Sponsored by Wear Blue Run To Remember, this stretch of road was lined with the names and faces of service men and women who have been killed in action overseas. Running along the left side of the pack, I made sure to look at every name and every face as I went by. I was struck by how many of these heroes were just in their twenties, some with young families. So many young and promising lives cut short. Just following these pictures, were what I assumed were veterans holding American flags and giving up high fives and words of encouragement to us all as we passed. It was a touching display of respect for these brave people that have sacrificed so much for our country and way of life.

The halfway mark blended into eight miles, then ten and before long I was running up to the twelve mile marker. Up the hill and into the tunnel lit with flashing lights and a disco ball, I reached into my right pocket and pulled out this small piece of metal and rubber.

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This shifter knob and the tail light are all I have left of my Triumph Bonneville. In a homage to it, and my story I decided to carry it with me for all 13.1 miles. For the last mile, I closed my hand around it and pushed just a little harder.

The crowd thickened considerably as the pack got closer to the end. I made the last turn and I could see the finish line. I picked Beth out in the crowd and gave her a high five as I ran passed. It was so close. Just keep pushing.

My feet stepped over the line, and it was over. So many miles run, injuries sustained and years to get to here. I slowed to a walk and made my way through the crowd towards our prearranged meeting point. We embraced in the street, and she said “Did you see the time?” I had been keeping track along the way, but the accuracy of my watch was a little off, so I mostly just watched my pace. I had no idea what my time actually was. I started the morning with a goal of 2:10:00 and in the end, I crossed the finish line in 2:05:48. I couldn’t have been happier with that.

Back in the hotel, I feel pretty good about what I accomplished today. The last time I ran 13.1 in training, which was a few years ago, my time was somewhere around 2:20:00. I’m pleased to see the hard work and training paid off. The plan for now is to get home, take a few days off and rest, and then start planning the next race. I’ve got a time to beat.

Here are the official stats of my run:

Up before dawn. 

From my hotel window the city appears to be comfortably asleep, but I know that at least 30,000 other people are starting their day the same way. The water is heating up for my coffee and oatmeal, and I stare nervously at my race bib. I’m relatively confident that today is going to go alright, but still the nerves manifest themselves in a quickened heart beat and a minor tremble in my fingertips. Just in the last six months alone, I have run nearly two hundred miles to train for this race. I know I can do this. I have a reasonable plan for the race, and if I stick to that, everything should be just fine. 

Welcome to my early morning pep talk. 

I know it’s easy to be overwhelmed at the thought of running 13.1 miles. I can feel it now while having my coffee. It’s a good time to remind myself that like everything else in life, rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a problem, or event, breaking it down into smaller parts makes it much more manageable. So, what do I need to do right now?

1. Eat, drink, shower and get dressed.

2. Find the shuttle to the start line

3. Warm up and stretch

4. Run

And that where it gets tricky. Running the first few steps and thinking about the 13.1 miles ahead can be daunting and demotivating. After I cross the start line, what’s next? Salt every couple miles, a gel every 45 minutes. I also break the race into quarters. Counting up to the halfway point rather than down from 13.1. Giving myself these smaller goals inside the larger one helps to not get overwhelmed. Most of all, I have to stay positive. I think I’m pretty good at that. Am I nervous? Of course. But am I going to fail? Nope. Am I going to quit? Not on your life.

As I have checked off my training runs, logged the miles, and finally arrived at the morning of the race, it has occurred to me that training for and running this race has become about more than just running a race or checking off some bucket list item. This year it has become a part of my survival story. I didn’t die on that road in September. I’m still in the fight and I’m not quitting.

Here goes nothing.

We got on the flight yesterday afternoon. Just about six hours door to door, I forgot how long the transcon flights can be. The captain was a friend of mine from my days on the Airbus, so we chatted for a few minutes before I settled into my seat next to Beth. It’s always nice to see a familiar face. We got in late-ish last night and grabbed an Uber to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. This morning, I was up at 0530, just before dawn.

Twenty-four hours to go.

In my entire running career this is the closest I’ve ever been to running this race. I have mixed emotions as I sit here in bed waiting for the sun to come up. My default is to say I’m nervous. That’s mostly true. I’m not especially worried about the distance, or the course. I’ve run in San Diego many times, and while the route is different and certainly longer, none of that really bothers me. It’s all the unknowns that come with running my first real half marathon. Things like, where do I get the shuttle? How will I find the right start line? And mostly, water. I’ve trained all my long runs with a hydration belt, carrying 40oz of water with me. My impression is that this isn’t something people do on race day, so I’m going to have to hit the water stops. I know that’ll slow me down, and I know I can do ten miles without water, but since that’s not ideal on race day I’m going to have to make it a point to stop. Since I’ve never actually done this before, I suspect it’s going to be a learning experience.

I’m putting together a plan for tomorrow morning. The timing will depend on when I start, which I’ll find out later today. I’m assuming I’ll be up at 4ish, make some coffee and oatmeal, relax for a few minutes and get my gear together. Since I’m not running too fast I’m expecting to be on one of the later busses to the start line. I have a plan for the race, and I think it’s reasonable. I’ve been training my long runs at a 10:00 per mile pace, so I’m hoping to be done in around 2:10:00. Is it lightning fast? No, but it’s who cares? I’m getting it done. After this race is over and I start looking to the next one, I’ll start figuring out how to get faster. Right now, the goal is to get it done, the time doesn’t matter as much.

Considering my history with attempting to run races, I’ll spend the rest of the day wrapped in bubble wrap and looking both ways before crossing any streets. This is happening.

Twenty four hours to go.

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Amid a flurry of grass clippings and dust, I saw the USPS truck speeding around the bend in our street as though our few humble homes were the last deliveries standing between this mail carrier and the freedom of a holiday weekend off. I rumbled to the backyard on a mower that has likely seen better days, and when I came back, there was a box resting on the doorstep. As a self confessed Amazon Prime junkie, I knew I wasn’t expecting a delivery. I examined the return address and immediately knew what was inside.

ScooterBob had arrived.

When I first signed up to host ScooterBob I was the proud owner of a 2014 Triumph Bonneville. My third motorcycle, the Bonne turned out to be a perfect fit for me. In the two years that I had it, It took me on pretty amazing adventures. There was no ride too long, no adventure too daunting, simply nothing I could not do with that bike. The story of its passing is as dramatic as it is sad, and is a post for another time. I mention it now because given the untimely parting with my Bonne I was unsure if I was the right person to host ScooterBob. Would he still want to see New England if it wasn’t on two wheels? My correspondence with the current host (Toadmama )and moderators ensured me that Bob would still want a visit no matter how it happened. I was touched by their kindness.

So here he is. As I opened the box I was profoundly moved by the small wooden motor scooter I found inside so lovingly packed in bubble wrap and peanuts. I found the bag of souvenirs that chronicled his journey around the world. I carefully unfolded each piece, remembering where I had read about it before. There was no doubt in my mind that this little scooter, and the man who inspired it’s travels, meant a great deal to the people who are keeping his mission alive. Described as an imperfect human, I feel like maybe Bob and I would have gotten along.

So for this man I have never met, and the people who have taken such good care of the tiny scooter that embodies his traveling sprit, ScooterBob and I are going to kick some ass.

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As a gun owner/advocate I feel strongly about taking the responsibility of owning and carrying a gun seriously. To me that means being proficient in not only the safe handling of your guns, but also the efficient employment of your defensive firearms. There’s a significant difference between a range gun, one you like to shoot for fun, and a gun you rely on to save your life and the lives of your over ones if needed. The best way I’ve found to determine which category one of my guns falls into is to take it to a class and train with it. Not just practice at the range on my own, but to run it hard it all day, or multiple days, through a variety of drills, positions and weather. At the end of a training evolution like that you should be able to tell whether you’re going to want to fight with that weapon or just plink with it on the range.

Case in point: Last year, I was bitten by the AK bug, and decided that I really wanted to add an AK47 to my safe. Because, you know, all the cool kids had one. I did some research and bought a Century Arms C39v2. One hundred percent made in the USA it seemed like a decent option for a somewhat less expensive AK. Now before I go on, whatever you may have to say about the Internet rumblings about CAI reliability, standby, I’ll speak to that in a moment. Moving on. So, I had my new AK and immediately took it to the range. It ran great, but as an AR15 guy, I realized I was going to have to I spend a good deal of time learning how to actually operate this rifle in the way it was intended, as a fighting rifle. I did a lot of reading, made some functional cosmetic changes – swapping out the nice walnut furniture for Magpul polymer, and adding an optic. After all that, and hours of dry fire and live fire practice, I finally felt ready to take it through some training. I signed up for a one day rifle class at the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. I’ve taken quite a bit of training with them, so I was confident that I was going to get a good day of work in running this rifle. My goal for the day was to be able to tell if I, as a lefty, could run the AK47 platform as efficiently as my AR15.

First, the rifle, now with over a thousand rounds through it, ran 100% reliably. No malfunctions whatsoever. I’ve found some wear on my bolt and carrier but none of that has affected its performance. All guns will fail at one point or another but so far my experience with this AK47 has been positive. Before getting into the operation of the gun I will add that the C39v2 with its milled recover is heavy, weighing in at just under 9lbs with no magazine. That’s pretty stout when you start adding body armor, sidearm, additional mags and gear. For the class my loadout probably weighed in the vicinity of 50lbs. Definitely doable, but something to take into consideration.

Concerning left handed operation of an AK47. Its no secret that being a left handed man operating in a right handed man’s world takes constant adaptation and improvisation. Running an AK47 is no different, and as such, there are pros and cons to being a lefty with an AK. With the charging handle located on the right side of the gun, if you watch a right handed guy running a reload of an AK you’ll see him doing a couple of different things to reach it to rack a round into the chamber, reaching under or over the rifle to operate the action. So here’s my big win for the AK: since the charging handle is on the right side of the gun I can keep my left hand on the grip and rack the bolt with my right hand after loading a fresh magazine. This makes for a super fast and smooth reload sequence, assuming I do my part.

Here’s what is less awesome: the safety. Unlike the AR15 the AK47 is decidedly less modular and an ambidextrous safety simply isn’t an option without a significant amount of work, and probably a gunsmith. I’ve done plenty of reading that says as a lefty all you have to do is swipe the safety off with your right thumb and go to work. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, and it does work. The problem I found is that if you want get your support hand out on the end of the rifle for more control, it’s slower than already having an established grip. I recognize this as a training issue, and by no means impossible, but I’m not sure how practical it is in real world employment. From the low ready position, it’s not bad but from the high ready I found it even more difficult to get the safety off, my support hand out and the shot off in any kind of reasonable time. The trained AR guys were smoking me. I eventually gave up moving my support hand at all and just held the magazine. It should be noted that if you’re going to do that, get your thumb out of the way of the charging handle. The charging handle doesn’t care about you or where you put your thumb. Ask me how I know. Lastly, when put into a real world simulation at the end of the class, I found that when forced to moved to multiple firing positions, flipping that safety on and off between moving was clunky and slow. It was obvious how much easier the AR15 thumb safety was to operate in that kind of dynamic environment.

By the end of the day I could draw a few conclusions. First, I knew that I could reasonably operate this rifle, and fight with it if I needed to. I feel pretty good about that. However, I also recognized that as much as I like it, the AK47 is not going to be my go to defensive rifle. Will more training and practice smooth out these issues? Absolutely, and I will continue to work with it. But if you asked me to grab a rifle out of the safe right now and defend my loved ones, the AR15 would be the first one out the door. That realization alone made the cost of admission and ammunition more than worth it.

I have and always will encourage gun owners to get out and train. It’s easily the best money we can spend and best way to tell if your guns and gear are going to work when you need them. I will be the first to tell you that there are plenty of shooters out there, far better than me, that have forgotten more about shooting than I’ll likely ever know. It’s in our interests to seek those people out and learn from them. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Techniques and and technology are constantly evolving. We must evolve with them or be left behind.

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I don’t always love it. Sometimes it’s cold, raining, windy and easily the last thing on earth I want to be doing. Yesterday was no different. I procrastinated in the car for an extra song working up the nerve to get out there and get it done. The first half mile was cold and the wind seemed to go right through me. I finally warmed up somewhere around mile 2, and by 3.5 I was committed. At mile five I thought, it’s only five miles back, that’s nothin.

It’s been hard for me to get motivated over the last couple weeks. Cold weather, rain and some pain has made running not a thing I’ve been super interested in. I’m not proud of it but it’s the truth. The thing that makes me suck it up, step outside and run the miles is that for the last eight weeks, every long run has been the longest run since my accident. That accomplishment reminds me that even though it sucks sometimes, I’m not dead, and I’m not quitting.

Monthly Totals for 2016 not including cross training:

January: 6.22
February: 24.57
March: 36.76
April: 57.70
May (to date): 17.11

I hit double digits yesterday with the ten miler coming in just a little under target time. Four weeks to go. I just might be able to pull this off after all.

Gear Check

Posted: March 2, 2016 in Shooting
Tags: , , , ,

It’s a popular, and well reasoned opinion that you should clean and inspect your defensive tools often. Keep your folding knife sharp, change the batteries in your flashlight, clean your gun regularly, check your mags, and cycle out old ammunition. These are good practices that will ensure that if you ever need any of your gear, you can count on it to work.

I wrote recently about moving my spare magazines back to my pocket for ease of carry. I haven’t had the opportunity to get out to the range so the other night I had some time to myself and thought it would be a good time to do some dry fire practice, including simulating emergency reloads from the pocket using snap caps (inert training rounds). As I was downloading my mags I noticed the follower was hung up inside the body of one of the magazines. I shook the last few rounds out and attempted to unstick the follower. It wouldn’t budge. I took the magazine apart and found this:

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This small pile of paper somehow managed to work it’s ways inside the magazine causing the follower to get stuck. This is critically important because if I were using this magazine I would have experienced a failure that would have required an immediate action drill: Tap, Rack, Strip, Reload, Bang. If I encountered this failure at a time while relying on the handgun and this magazine for my life, I would have been in one hell of a tight spot. I’m glad I found it when I did.

Preflight your gear people, and do it often.