Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Pirate's Life For Me

The sound of cannons firing into the Bay. The pirates hanging off the masts of the Jose Gaspar Pirate Ship. The smell of rum in the air.The eye patches and shoulder parrots. The sight of beads flailing through the sky to eager spectators along Bayshore Boulevard.

It's Gasparilla time in Tampa Bay.

Gasparilla is an annual tradition in the city of Tampa. It began in 1904 to "commemorate" the legendary pirate, Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th century. Gaspar, given to calling himself "Gasparilla," served as a lieutenant in the Royal Spanish Navy for five years until 1783 when, upon seizing command of a Spanish sloop-of-war, he with his fellow mutineers set sail for the Florida straits. And so the young Spanish aristocrat-turned-pirate began an adventurous life as an infamous outlaw of the sea.

When Jose Gaspar died, he supposedly left an untold fortune in buried treasure somewhere along the Florida coast. Though that treasure has never been discovered, the story of the swashbuckling Gasparilla was unearthed and his memory revived in 1904 when Tampa's social and civic leaders adopted the pirate as patron rogue of a city-wide celebration. 

Secret meetings gave birth to the first "Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla," who planned to surprise the city with a mock pirate attack on Tampa. Masked and fully-costumed, the first krewe arrived on horseback and "captured the city" during the Festival Parade.

Present day Tampa, The Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla arrives in Tampa Bay aboard the Jose Gasparilla, a 165' pirate ship, firing off their cannons and waiving their swords in the air. 

Here's a video I took last year, to give you an idea: 

After the pirates invade, the krewe jumps off the ship, "captures" the mayor, and steals the key to the city.

With the key in their grasp, the pirates launch their victory celebration  and the Parade of Pirates ensues down Bayshore Blvd to an attendance of over 400,000 of your closest friends.

The parade has floats including over 50 krewes along with other local celebrities, charities, and organizations. They're all dressed as pirates, and all of them are throwing beads - think Mardi Gras, with a pirate twist.

I am beside myself that my entire family is coming down to participate in all the pillaging this weekend! 

Other than Gasparilla, there will be beach time, boat time, and an NHL game thrown in for good measure.

Also as the cherry on top, G. Love & Special Sauce is coming to St Pete on Friday night. His concerts are always epic, and with our crew of about 12 people, it's gonna be ridiculous how much fun we'll have.

Check out his funky blues music here.

This is sure to be a weekend for the record books, y'all.

See you on the high seas! 

Continued here: Gasparilla Weekend Rewind

Friday, January 13, 2012

Teaching Myself to Run

I never had a running coach and was never on a cross country team or track team. I never thought I'd  even run more than a mile, especially after the elementary school days where they forced you to go around the track 4 times in PE, and with every step thinking evil thoughts about the teacher. I never thought I'd be a crazed cardio freak, getting up at 5am to run in the cold rain or hitting up the gym willingly after a long day of work. What would ever posses me to WANT to do something like that out of my own free will? No thanks.

Get out of bed to run in this?? Are you CRAZY??

Fast forward to 2010 - The urge had overcome me to run. The challenge of running a 5K without stopping was upon me. My brother was successful in high school and even got a scholarship to run for college, so I had hoped it was in my "blood". But where was I supposed to start? I knew nothing about running. Nothing except for that I used to hate it.

Brother in college. Beast mode.

I studied running books, picked my brother's brain, went to the running store and got my feet tested for proper shoes, and read training programs online through Hal Higdon, Cool Running and Runner's World. There were so many variations of training programs, how was I supposed to know which one to choose? So I morphed them all together and rigged together my own, not sure of what would happen. 

Meet Hal. Hal Higdon.

A year and a half later, I've done 3 half marathons, 1 full marathon, and countless 5K's and 10K's. Luckily my jacked-up training schedule worked!


My friend Kasey now has the same challenge...she wants to run a 5K. But doesn't know where to start and doesn't know what training plan to follow. 
(Yes ma'am, I just called you out, so now you really DO have to run that 5K!!)

I told her I'd send her a "quick" email with a training schedule similar to mine, and include some tips that I learned when I first started running.

Well, that email turned into a novel. 

At dinner the other night, she said I should post my email on my blog as a
"Beginning Runners 101" post. 

So, here you go!

Here's the plan I put together for you - it's very similar to mine when I first started running, and I couldn't go farther than about a mile and half before I wanted to pass out.
Feel free to modify and switch around any of the days, depending on travel/work/school schedules.

Strength training is AWESOME! Keep doing weights, and focus on doing squats/lunges/leg lifts with weights - the more you work your glutes, hamstrings and quads, the happier your knees well be and the faster you'll be able to push yourself mid-run. (Plus, you burn more calories working out the glutes and legs because those muscles are larger!) Arms, shoulders and back are still important too for propelling yourself. And dont' forget your abs and core - strengthening the core will help with breathing and will keep you from getting those nasty side stitches. Yoga and pilates moves are great for core and strengthening your hips, too.

For cross training, I prefer (and recommend!) swimming/spinning/biking - something different from running to get your cardio going, and that works different muscle groups. It also keeps you from getting burnt out on running. The exercise bike at the gym is a great option if there are no spinning classes - even the elliptical or stairmaster would work. Yoga is also a fabulous cross training option.

Side note - I can't go without Hot Yin and Yang Yoga at Yoga Energy Studio in St Pete - if it weren't' for Sylvie and that class, I would have never been able to run my marathon, hands down.

Whenever you can physically run outside, do it. Treadmill running is way different than outside. To beat the heat, I do mine either early in the morning (6:30ish) or later in the evening (around 8).  But sometimes a good hot sweaty run is just what I need :)

For the Saturday where it says "run", dont worry about how fast you run, just cover the distance (or approximate distance). Pace yourself - slow down to a 12 or 13 minute mile to try and do the entire thing without stopping. Pacing yourself is probably one of the most challenging aspects.  Remember though that the goal is not to beat other runners - the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit!

There is also no rule that says you have to run it continuously - if you need to stop for a few, stop and walk until you feel you can go again. Half the battle of running is getting over that urge to stop.

For distances, go to and sign up for a free account - its a great website that will allow you to place a start and finish point and map out your distance beforehand so you have a better idea of how far you need to go.

What shoes are you currently running in? If you get a chance, head over to Fit2Run at International Plaza (or any running store for those not in Tampa!). They can do a treadmill test that will video your step and show you what your foot does mid-run. I am an "overpronator" meaning my ankles curve inwards on my down step. Because of this, I need special arch supports or shoes made for stability. This could be one reason why your knees tend to hurt during either need better shoes or maybe some arch-supporting orthodic inserts. They will try to sell you "special" shoes but dont' worry about buying those yet unless you have extra money and just want to....the inserts are way cheaper than buying new shoes.
However, if your current shoes are old and worn, it may be a good idea to go over to sports authority and just get some sort of neutral shoe - my first pair was a neutral pair of Aasics with the gel - very cushiony and comfy! I added the inserts and I was fine. I will also say if you do buy new shoes, use them only for workouts and runs. It will avoid wearing them down more quickly.

Speaking of for running apparel is a lot of fun. I would say besides a decent pair of shoes/inserts, you'll need some wicking sports socks (your feet will thank you later!) and dry-fit wicking shorts. Cotton shorts are OK for short distances, but once you start sweating the cotton chaffes the hell out of your inner thigh. I have scars from learning that lesson. Not pretty. They have good shorts at TJ Maxx for like $14, along with a good sports bra selection. I think Target has some too. Also, a good sports-type of watch with a stopwatch so you can time yourself properly. Doesn't have to be fancy, anything from Wal Mart or Target is just fine.

If you listen to music while you run, slap an armband on or clip your ipod onto your shirt - music always helps motivate me, but some people prefer not to be distracted. I got my armband on ebay for like $4.

If you can't stand the sweat in your eyes, don't be ashamed to wear a sweatband or visor/cap.
I am obsessed with my SweatyBand. It holds your hair back better than anything I've ever tried before, and they make all kinds of cute patterns and colors. Don't hesitate to buy yourself one (or five). You can thank me later.

As far as other general advice, I would say to be patient and allow yourself to adapt to the demands of running and go with the flow. You'll surprise yourself a few weeks down the road how much progress you've made!

Everyone has different styles and ways of running and training - a few weeks from now you may want to turn it up a notch, or change up some of the days, or flip flop some of the workouts. That's totally fine - make it your own and go with it! 

Also remember food is fuel...wouldn't recommend doing crazy diets while training. I eat smaller more frequent meals and help keep it well balanced with fruits/veggies/proteins. Carbs aren't your worst enemy especially in the form of fruit or veggies. I always eat a nice carb-y meal before my long run or before a race.

I think that's all the words of wisdom for now!!! If you have questions shoot them over!

Yep, wasn't joking about that "novel" thing. 

Hopefully there is something in there that you can take away and morph into your own running regimen! I am by no means an expert or a coach or certified in anything that has to do with running, so take it as you will, but I always felt it was beneficial to get tips from other runners and didn't want to be stingy in my knowledge, even though it's limited. I'm still learning about running every day and study my runner's world magazine every month for new tips and tricks and motivation.

Running is what you put into it - you wanna be a runner? Do it! I'm not saying it's easy, but I can promise you it's rewards are tenfold. 

Happy Running!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A House Pulled Down is Half Rebuilt

Change is always difficult, whether it's anticipated or unexpected. It can be as small as a new paint color on the wall, or as big as bringing home a newborn baby. Change though, I've found, is all about how you handle it. If you find the good in change, you're much more likely to have a positive outlook on life in general in my experience.

Even when that change is devastating.

This Christmas, I went back to Cullman for the first time since the end of April, right after an F4 tornado swept away entire blocks of downtown (blog post on that here). Last time I was there, I was helping Jackie pick up the pieces of her childhood home. 

I hadn't gotten the opportunity to see the rebuilding process, and was anxious to check out how it was coming along and how everything had changed.

Some of the change was extremely difficult to handle. I used to drive out past the Cullman Times on 278 East towards her house, and the road was shaded with huge old trees. There were beautiful old homes lining the road and I remember ALWAYS missing her house because I could never see her driveway until I had already passed by.

The haunting part about going down that road now is that there are no trees and no beautiful old homes left.

There are small reminders that homes used to stand in these open fields, like a mailbox and driveway to nothing, and front steps up to a plot of land.

Some of the change was powerful. It's like cutting your finger, and then putting a band aid on and letting it heal. There are always scars, but that doesn't mean you don't persevere and continue on with life, no matter what curve balls are thrown your way.
It's uplifting to see how a small community can come together and support one another through such turmoil. Homes and empty city blocks can be rebuilt. Trees can be re-planted. Glass can be re-installed and murals can be repainted. It reminds you of what's really important in this world, and that when one door closes another door opens.

Check out this mural - Cullman in the 1880's. It was damaged in the tornado, but now bricks have been put back on and plans are in place to repaint the missing pieces. The five buildings depicted include the Kinney Horse and Mule Barn, Cullman's First Fire Station, Werdt's German Restaurant, Dinckelberg's Santa Claus Store and the First County Courthouse - none of which are still standing today to my knowledge. I don't know the history of what eventually happened to these buildings, whether they burned down or were torn down and rebuilt (for all I know a tornado could have wiped them out). After their demise however, the people in the city moved forward and created another courthouse and another fire station, and rebuilt more restaurants and storefronts that the next set of generations were able to enjoy. 

 I can't wait to see what this new chapter in Cullman's history will become - new business storefronts, new homes, new church Sanctuaries and stained glass windows. I already know it's going to be beautiful, and I can't wait to take my kids someday!