Road Warrior Blog – Welcome to my Journey

Hello everyone!  My name is Tracy Hixson and I am very excited to be a Road Warrior for the 2020 Amway River Bank Run.  I have been a casual runner for a few years, but always thought that completing a 25K was out of my reach.  “Why try now?” you may ask and the answer is simple.  This is My Time.  I have an amazing daughter who is living her best life at Central Michigan University and a great supportive husband to help me with this journey.  This is a new chapter for me now – to force myself out of my comfort zone and prove that it is never too late to push yourself.  The decision to choose the River Bank Run as the proving ground was even more simple.  As a Fifth Third employee, this race has been near and dear to my heart for the last 20 years, as I have held many roles “behind the scenes” on the race committee, making sure that it is an event to remember for all that join us on race day.  I am currently serving as the Charity Partner Coordinator on the Race Steering Committee and I continue to be very passionate about the community commitment component of the race.  Also, for the last few years, I coordinated the Finish Fest on Calder Plaza to make sure that people had an amazing time after they finish – and now it is my turn to be able to celebrate when I cross that finish line.  I look forward to being among the other runners who have trained for months, achieved their goal, and just want to kick back and enjoy a well-earned beer! All are welcome to join me on this journey and share a toast on race day – Cheers to that!


Week One:  Kickoff

Ok, here we go!  No backing out now….  It is time to meet with my coaches, Joanne and Amy and start this journey with my fellow road warriors.  We start by being video-taped while we run, so we can have the experts break down our strides.

In a nutshell, here is what I pictured when I ran:

And here is what the slow motion video showed me that I actually looked like:

Well, nowhere to go but up!    The experts at Gazelle take us through some great pointers to help us be more efficient when we run and prevent injury – which is my biggest fear through this whole process.  We then are matched with great running shoes – and away we go!


Week Two:  The First Push

One of the great features of this program is that partnership with so many great organizations in the area – one of them being Perrin Brewery.  This week is the Perrin No Problems Training Run, which happens every second Tuesday of the month.  It is a great event that brings out runners from all over the area to run together and then enjoy some snacks and comradery after!  I have been to this event before as a Committee member, but this is my first time as an actual runner.  It is a typical chilly December evening, but everyone is lit up and it is a great time.  I am able to run 2 miles and feel OK after – I take that as a win!  Later that week, my fellow Road Warriors and I worked with our coaches at the Downtown GR YMCA on our short distance speeds by recording a timed mile.  Not only is the goal of this program to run the full 25K on race day, but to also run it at a good pace.  I am also learning that everyone has a different goal for this adventure within the Road Warrior group and it is great to see.  For some people, it is a challenge to overcome adversity and prove that they are just as strong, if not stronger than before.  For others, it is to keep pushing themselves competitively and go out for a personal best on Race Day.  Then there are those just like me, trying something new to show that with the right support and commitment, you can check something off our bucket list that you once thought unachievable.


Week Three:  Fundamentals

This is our last week of training before the holidays, so we focus one session on Nutrition, Hydration, and Core.   Our coaches are very committed to making sure that not only are we able to run, but that we are in the best physical health before, during, and after the race.  This holistic approach is really one of the unique parts of this program. Even if you never run again in your life after the River Bank Run, you will take items away that will help you live a more active and healthy lifestyle.  I love that!   My goal for our Saturday outside run is now up to 3 miles and I can say that even though I had a little bit of nerves, I trusted in my training and went for it.  It is also great to run with my fellow Road Warriors – which is a new experience for me.  Running was always an “alone” exercise for me, nothing but me and my headphones.  The idea of not having loud music to distract me from what was actually happening (ever heard yourself “huff and puff” and then suddenly you are more tired than EVER?), was a little daunting, but I trusted my coaches.  I have since found that running with people and carrying on conversations actually makes the miles move quicker and create a sense of community.  Ok – I get it now.


Week Four:  THE HOLIDAYS

Family is the most important thing during this time of the year, so we officially have the week off to celebrate and spend time with our loved ones.  However, I am starting to feel a little bit of a pull to keep running and not fall behind, so I make sure to get some good runs on and even meet up with a couple of my fellow Road Warriors at the YMCA!  I am also following the 25K Training Schedule, put out by the Race during this time, to keep on track and moving forward.  A great benefit of this Road Warrior program is membership into RunGR, which is a long standing organization here in Grand Rapids and has over 300 members!  We get the opportunity to partner with them and participate in their running events and a Saturday run is what is on the schedule!  I have been tasked with 4 miles today, so I pal up with a couple of experienced RunGR members and we head out.  Before I know it, we are chatting away (among them were a couple of past Road Warriors) and it is time for me to turn around and head back!  I had a great time and can’t wait for more RunGR events to come!


Week Five:  HELLO 2020!

Is there a better way to say goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020 than to run 4 miles around Reed Lake, complete with snow and hills?  Not for the Road Warriors!  This is our first official race as a group and we are all pumped!

It was a chilly day, but everyone pulled through and we lived our new motto of “Leave no Road Warrior Behind”.  Personally, I realized that I had a long way to go to run the hills that are part of the 25K course in May… inclines are not my friend!  However, as bad as I felt, I never stopped running and made sure that my Road Warrior peeps keep moving to!  The team feeling within this group is really building and it is encouraging to see and feel.    We also had the January Community Run on Saturday and finally, all of us are back together after the holidays!

These community runs are sponsored by Amway River Bank Run and this one also had all of our charity partners with us:  Hand2Hand, Conductive Learning Center, Children’s Advocacy Center, be NICE., and American Cancer Society.  One of best parts of the race is the commitment to the community through this Charity Partner program and I am excited to help my fellow Road Warriors support these organizations.


Week Six:  RunGR and Registration Parties!

This week, we got the chance to participate and run with our RunGR partners at their kickoff event at Creston Brewery!  It was a great evening of energy with some very motivated speeches to RunGr members on “why they run”.  It was great to hear about their journey and the changes that being a part of this organization has had on the lives of many.  After the chats, we all participated in a four mile run over through Riverside Park and mother nature reminded us that it was January with winds and blowing snow!  However, the Road Warrior spirit is never diminished and we even paused for a quick pic!  After the run, we all warmed up with a couple of beers and lots of chatter!  This group is really coming together and strong friendships are being formed - can’t imagine going thru this journey with anyone else! 

This week also kicked off the Registration season with the annual party at Craig’s Cruisers!  This was a great event to energize people to register and start training!  The Road Warriors were on hand to encourage people to sign up, and have a little team bonding fun!   Due to the poor weather, no training run on Saturday – so it is up to us to keep with the training schedule.  Hate to miss an opportunity to hang with the team, but Mother Nature had plans of her own!


Week Seven: New Territory

This week starts the part of the training in which every “long” run, is now the longest that I have ever run before –
so everyday becomes a new part of this journey for me! With the snow factory in full effect now, it has been a
challenge to get out and get the required miles in, but it also does allow for a few giggles. Take a look at the pic
below…yep, those are my footprints that look freakishly like a favorite childhood snack!

The Perrin No Problems Training run was this week again and that is always a great evening!  It was a chilly night, but everyone was out in their lighted gear and made the best of it! These events are great to meet with other runners and run with new people – a great example of how social this sport can be!   The weather kicked in again on Saturday and because of that, the long run from the YMCA was cancelled for the Road Warriors, but we were tasked to make up the miles over the weekend. It took until Sunday evening for the roads to be cleared enough for me – but I was able to get my required miles in, with the help of my light gear!


Week Eight:   First Mental Block

Well, I knew it would be coming…the point in time where I say to myself “why am I doing this again?” and it happened this week.  We participated in a couple of training runs with RunGR this week and it showed me that although I have made progress so far, I have a long way to go.  I felt comfortable running with my fellow Road Warriors, but when you mix me with a bunch of highly trained runners, I suddenly felt inadequate. We ran a hill exercise in which we ran up and down a hill 6- 8 times – that was of course after we ran over 1.5 miles to get to the hill and then had to run back after leaving it all on the hill.  I saw runners embrace this event and although I wished to be one of them – I was not. I turned angry, bitter and questioned why I was even there. I still had not mentally recovered when we joined the RunGR group again for fartlek training (yep – look it up) and again, I felt myself start to break mentally. Don’t get me wrong, the RunGR group was extremely encouraging and tried to keep me going – but I was done.  I questioned myself as to why I was even doing this. I knew that a big part of long distance running is mental and I hit that point.

On Saturday, I pulled myself together and joined my fellow Road Warriors for the Perrin Frostbite 5K.  I still was not completely in the right mind frame, but I knew that I had committed to this journey and my road warrior team and needed to pull through.  I shared my setback with the group (over a few post party libations) and they were all extremely supportive and some even shared their previous setbacks. I realized that this was part of the journey – questioning why I was even putting myself through this and then pushing through to the other side.  On Sunday, I decided to “pound out the demons” and went for my longest run yet (a little over 5 miles) and started to feel that I could do this. Will there be other hard times? Yes. Will there come another time that I want to quit? Most Certainly. Will I now know where to turn for support and find the mental fortitude to push through it?  Absolutely!

 

 

 

 


Week Nine: Mental Reboot

This week I needed to be in Chicago for work and I think it was the best thing for me at the time. I needed to get away and refocus on what I wanted to accomplish and how far I have already come. I know that there are many that are far ahead of me, but I also need to realize that I am not doing this for them or to complete with them. I decided to do this for myself – to push me and to see what new accomplishments I could make. I needed these days away to give myself a mental breather. Spend some time with some great co-workers, that I don’t get to see a lot, and just get comfortable with myself again. Yeah, I ran a little on a treadmill – but the focus was my mental health, not my physical one. I needed to put that first.

When I got home, I decided that I needed to see where I was mentally and if I was ready to get back on this crazy adventure. I strapped on my running shoes and took off around my neighborhood. It was time to see if I was ready to put that terrible week behind me and celebrate how far I had come – instead of how far I have to go. I felt strong and pounded out 5 miles that night and I knew that I could refocus.

The next day, I met up with my fellow warriors and about a hundred other runners at the Saturday morning Community Run, sponsored by the Amway River Bank Run. For me, it was time to target 6 miles and big shout out to my fellow Road Warrior, Laura, it was actually a fun experience! I made it without too many issues and actually felt pretty good after! I even treated myself to a massage at a local salon to celebrate coming back from the edge and to reassure that even though I know more of those mentally challenging times will be ahead, they are not unsurpassable…just temporary rest stops on the road map to the 25k.


Week Ten:  Winter comes back!

Ok –First off, let me say that I understand that it is February and I do live in Michigan, so yes – it is cold.  When you live in the Mitten State, you expect to wear them for a few months a year. However, I will say that the temps and weather conditions take on a whole need meaning when you know you will be out it in, numerous times a week, and have to force your body to run.  When deep down, my inner self just wants to curl up under a heated blanket and watch The Bachelor (not gonna hide my guilty addiction), I have to find the gumption to get up, grab my layers, and push myself out the door. While getting over the little voice that says “Can I do this?” is still an active process for me, it is really testing my conviction on these chilly nights.  It is also time for me to conquer my nemeses – hills. Time to get out and train with RunGR and tackle Duchess. For those of you not familiar with this torture item, it is hill over by Reeds Lake that likes to make runners cry. That was my goal – to not let it break me. I went into that training run with a new focus – center on what I can do and listen to my body. I am getting a better understanding of what I should be able to do at this point and I need to concentrate on that and not the ones around me.  Tuesday night renewed my faith – I ran Duchess and made it out alive. Ok… back on track.

Saturday was our long run with RunGR and Mother Nature decided to remind us that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow for a reason – WINTER WAS NOT DONE!  Unbeknownst to weathermen and runners alike, it snowed HARD and made the 6 miles (from the GR YMCA to Aquinas and back) feel like 12. Running on wet snow up hills with little traction and visibility made for quite the adventure.  Although I had conquered the 6-mile distance with my run last week – this one kicked by butt! There were times I questioned that we were even moving forward, as with each step I took, I slipped back a little. Take that, plus blowing snow left little to no visibility to those like me that need to wear glasses!  I truly needed my fellow road warriors to keep me on the right path – LITERALLY! We got a chance to pause at the halfway point for a selfie and then celebrated at the end of the run while we scraped the snow off each other and shook off! I know that May in West Michigan always has unpredictable weather, and now I know that if the” white death” does decide to rear its ugly head – ROAD WARRIORS GOT THIS!

 

 

 


Week 11:   GoodBye Zoey 

One of the struggles that I knew I was going to encounter with this commitment to the Road Warrior program was trying to balance a busy work/travel schedule with the requirements and training sessions that are needed to be successful.  This week was one of those. I had to be in Cincinati for the week, so unfortunately I missed the monthly Perrin Run, which I LOVE! It also meant that I had to keep myself on track and make sure that I got in the required miles. I am NOT a fan of the treadmill, so luckily the weather down south cooperated with me and I was able to get out and run across the river and back to get in my required miles.  

When I returned from Cincinnati, a sad family event was waiting for me.  Our dog, Zoey, was reaching the end of her struggle and it was time for us to help her ease the pain and and move on.  She was over 17 years old and had been an important member of our family – and my history of walking and running. She used to run with me when she was a puppy and was the one that kept me going for “one more block, Mom”.   Even though it has been many years since she was able to run/walk a large distance, she still always got excited when my running gear went on and I had to at least take her for a walk… even if it was only to the neighbor’s house and back.   Putting those shoes on Sunday afternoon after saying goodbye to my furry baby was emotionally tough for me. I had to remember all of the fun times with her and called on my fellow Road Warriors in my head, encouraging me to keep going. With that combination, I was able to complete my required seven miles – which was another first.  Achieving this milestone while I was physically alone was important to me to solidify that I am never really alone…support of others that I have met along with way are always with me.     

 

 

 


Week 12:  When are you considered a “Runner”?

Here we are, three months in and more and more people are asking me how my training is going and if I feel like a runner yet?  That is an interesting question in which I have given some good thought to over the past few weeks. When will I feel like a Runner?  What is the definition of a Runner? Is it the number of miles, the number of races, the minutes per mile...the options are numerous. However this week, I experienced the one thing that binds all true runners together.  The one thing that allows you to truly call yourself a runner….chafing.

Ok – I know, it is not something that people really like to talk about and it is by no means glamourous.  However, it is something that when you experience it, it changes you. You realize that there are many factors that go into a successful run  - some that you can prepare for and some that only hit you when you make it to the shower (you runners out there know EXACTLY what I mean). I realized this week, through talking about my “injury” with other runners that it is something that binds us.  Everyone has a story to tell and I realized – as painful as it is - that it has made me an official runner! After it heals, I will wear it as a badge of courage and now I have my own story to tell.

This week we were also treated to an amazing night of dinner, drinks, and down-right amazing company by our coaches Joanne and Amy.  It was so much fun to have all of the Road Warriors sit around the table and talk about their journeys and really bond even more as a team.  I am truly honored to be among this group of people and to not only call them my teammates, but also my friends. They inspire me to keep pushing and we all share the same “borderline” sense of humor.   Joanne and Amy have provided inspirational guidance and are all around great women and we are so honored to have their support. It was a great night… with lots of beer, wine, and of course – FIREBALL (the official drink of the 2020 Road Warriors).

           

The week wrapped up with a long run with our RunGR partners on Saturday and my mission was 7 miles.  I had run that distance the week before and knew I could handle it, but I needed to keep pushing myself.  Thanks to a few of my fellow Warriors (who are much faster than I), they helped me push to keep up with their paces for at least half of the distance.  It was definitely pushing me out of what limited comfort zone I have, but they were amazingly supportive. And as they say, the proof is in the pudding – when I look at my time a week ago for that same distance compared to Saturday, I knocked off over 10 minutes!  THANKS FELLOW ROAD WARRIORS FOR ALWAYS RAISING THE BAR!


Week 13:  8 Mile

Work life balance can be hard for anyone, yet alone someone that is trying to manage work, travel, family, and training for a long race.  This week I was back in Chicago for work, so I missed running with my fellow Road Warriors on our Tuesday and Thursday outings. I had to deal with a treadmill (yuck) and a stationary bike (double yuck) in the hotel gym.  Definitely not as fun as hanging with my running peeps, but I did not want to fall too far behind and this was going to be a big week! It was time to cross the halfway mark and I needed to be as prepared as I could!

Our Saturday long run was a little different than normal.  We participated in a run with one of the official charity partners, Hand2Hand, instead of our normal meeting grounds at the Downtown YMCA.  It was a smaller venue, so we were able to have a great time out as a little family with lots of action shots and laughs.  

While it was great to run at a different location, the goal was the same.  Time to hit 8 miles…the official “over halfway there” mark. After two weeks of 7-mile runs, I thought – no big deal…what is one more mile?  Well, let me tell you - MY BODY KNEW EXACTLY when I hit 7.1 miles! From head to toe – it yelled at me and I had to rely on a few of my fellow road warriors to keep me going.  I had to focus on other things: “look, the sun is actually out, the pavement is dry, not snow covered, and don’t forget that there are donuts waiting for you at the end”. Eventually, I made it and was able to join everyone for some chatter and group bonding.  I have still not reached the point of having the “runners high”, so my teammates like to poke and me and we have great laughs at my expense – but it is all good. I can’t imagine a better group of people to go through this with – they accept me for me, with all my grumpiness and sarcasm!  I know that I would not have gotten this far without them. Still a long way to go, but I could at least pause and smile knowing how far I have come.

 

 

 

 


Week 14:  It is about more than Running…

Although the end goal for a Road Warrior is to complete the 25K and live to tell about it, it has become more and more apparent to me that it takes more than pounding out miles to achieve that end result.  Our coaches have been trying to get us to focus on cross training and core strength and I will be honest – I took a hard pass. Look for me, just trying to get myself out there and put in the required miles to keep up with the training, let alone try to motivate myself to bike, swim, yoga, etc.  These are all great activities, don’t get me wrong, but all I could wrap my head around was running. However, this week I decided to step out of my box and try one new thing… and that was the stationary bike. Let’s be clear – I was not a biker as a kid. I had a bike, but it was never my main choice of transportation and has never been easy for me.  This being said, I decided to try out a bike in the hotel gym this week while I was in Cincinnati and give it a shot. I committed to 20 minutes…and let me tell you – I would rather run those miles! I have a new respect for bikers now – my legs hurt and I don’t even want to talk about my “bottom”. However, through all of that – I do see how something like that would help me be a better runner.  I may give it another shot…stay tuned.

Our coaches also like to throw monthly challenges out there for us and for the month of February it was wall sits. What is a wall site, you may ask?  Well, stand next to a wall… push your back to it…and then sit down like you would in a chair…except there is no chair. The challenge was thrown before the Road Warriors and the showdown happened on Saturday morning before the Community Run.  As you can see… we were all excited…NOT! CONGRATS TO LAURA – she tooks us all out! 😊

 

Long run goal for this week was 8 miles again and it was much easier this time around!   The weather was still cold, but the sun was out, and we even had to dodge some deer around the route!  As my fellow Road Warriors know, I am not the happiest of runners on those mornings. I am grouchy about having to get out of bed, disengaged even more about the cold, and would honestly rather to be anywhere else.  They are amazing teammates and they deal with me and wait for after… when “Happy Post Running Tracy” comes out. Sometimes, it can take a while and needs some coaxing. Last week it was donuts at the end and this week it was a full body massage.  Knowing that 50 minutes of healing and relaxing were coming my way, she came out a little quicker than last week!     

 

 


Week 15:  Wait…What?  Corona is a BAD thing??

We hit the “two month until race day” milestone and it is getting real.  Less than 8 weeks left to train, over half way there in our distance training plan, and everyone is really meshing as a team.  We had a GREAT night at the Perrin Run on Tuesday. Beautiful weather, lots of good company and camaraderie made for a perfect evening.

Even at the beginning of the week, there was a mumbling about this thing called the Coronavirus.  What is it? Where is it? Everyone just wash your darn hands and it will blow over. But then, literally overnight, everything changed.  RunGR cancelled all of its training runs. Spectrum Health cancelled the Irish Jig. Colleges went to online courses and us “empty nesters” found ourselves looking at having our college student back home again (trust me, not a lot of fun for them either).  My daughter cut her spring break short by a day because she was afraid she would not be able to make it back to Michigan. My Road Warrior friends met OUTSIDE of the YMCA to meet up to run, because RunGR cancelled their long run. I was not able to meet up with them on Saturday morning, but I was able to keep the training schedule and run 9 miles for the first time.  This was a solo run – just me, my tunes, and the Kent Trails – but I accomplished my goal and wanted to celebrate a little.

The upcoming weeks left in this training will be different than any Road Warrior team has experienced in the past.  I won’t get political in this Blog, but one thing that everyone can agree on is that times have changed. In a matter of a week, people are locking down, working remote, and HOARDING toilet paper!  For us Road Warriors, it also means no more group runs and we need to work differently together. We need to work to stay connected virtually and continue to stay healthy and focused. It will challenge us mentally and physically – as fitness centers close and people deal with reduced incomes as a result of the economic impacts. The journey does not end, but the path that we take to get there will be very different indeed.


Week 16:  The New Normal?

This week started my journey into working from home, life without Shopping Malls, and trying to figure out the difference between “social distancing” and plain old “personal space”.   Like most people, I was trying to figure out this “remote work” thing and how it would work for me.  With no festivities open for St. Patty’s Day, my daughter and I decided that we were still going to dress in our Irish best and go out to bring people some smiles.  We took a 5K walk (since the Irish Jig was cancelled) around our town and had fun bringing smiles and “honks” from those that crossed our path.  Even in these times, you can touch people without personal contact.

As the week went on, the situation around COVID-19 continued to evolve and the difficult decision was made to postpone the River Bank Run until October 24th.  Many large races had either cancelled, postponed, or decided to go virtual and we knew that our time had come to make that call for the Amway River Bank Run.  When this decision was made, I had two different reactions:  As a committee member, it was “Yep, totally get it, makes sense” – yet as a Road Warrior, it was “WHAT?  I HAVE TO KEEP RUNNING FOR 5 MORE MONTHS!!”.   Both of these reactions fit and pretty much sum up how people feel about all of the changes that this COVID-19 is bringing.

So, what does this mean for my Road Warrior journey?  Well, right now like most things in this point in time, it is fluid.  I want to keep on track to be able to be at my best and to finish the now virtual Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in April, but achieving this will be hard.  We are not able to meet as a large Road Warrior team and I miss my teammates!  It is now on us to try to keep the momentum and team bonding going virtually and with small groups.  On Sunday, I was lucky enough to meet up with three of my fellow Road Warriors and hit another milestone of running 10 miles!  We did our best to keep in line with social distancing and were able to reconnect, encourage each other, and remind ourselves that Warriors never give up!  Whether the race is the second week in May or Late October – Proud to be an AMWAY RIVER BANK RUN ROAD WARRIOR!